On July 23, 2012, a massive cloud of solar material erupted off the sun's right side, zooming out into space. It soon passed one of NASA's Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory, or STEREO, spacecraft, which clocked the CME as traveling between 2 900 - 3 500 km/h (1 800 and 2 200 mph) as it left the sun. This was the fastest CME ever observed by STEREO.
Two other observatories – NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory and the joint European Space Agency/NASA Solar and Heliospheric Observatory - witnessed the eruption as well. The July 2012 CME didn't move toward Earth, but watching an unusually strong CME like this gives scientists an opportunity to observe how these events originate and travel through space.
STEREO's unique viewpoint from the sides of the sun combined with the other two observatories watching from closer to Earth helped scientists create models of the entire July 2012 event.
They learned that an earlier, smaller CME helped clear the path for the larger event, thus contributing to its unusual speed.
Such data helps advance our understanding of what causes CMEs and improves modeling of similar CMEs that could be Earth-directed.
Video and featured image credit: NASA/Goddard