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SAN FRANCISCO — Dramatic explosions from the surface of the sun can link up across hundreds of thousands of miles. New views from three different NASA spacecraft show how near-simultaneous eruptions on opposite sides of the sun can connect through looping lines of magnetic force. Solar scientists have suspected for decades that solar flares (sudden bursts of energy that erupt from sunspots) and coronal mass ejections (bubbles of gas threaded with lines of magnetic field that throw tons of solar plasma out into space when they explode) could be connected across great distances.
So-called sympathetic flares that went off one after another had been observed for 75 years. But how the flares could link together was a mystery. New videos of a recent eruption that crossed nearly the entire sun could solve the puzzle. On August 1, a chain of more than a dozen flares and other eruptions cascaded across the surface of the sun. Much of the show was hidden from Earth, but it was all captured by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (above) and twin STEREO spacecraft.