The sun's surface has been especially turbulent in recent years, with flares and other massive discharges shooting up every couple of weeks. And over the weekend, two especially violent solar storms erupted on our star's surface. Solar prominences like the one shown below don't pose a direct danger to Earth, although the radiation from extremely intense storms pointed in our direction can disrupt communication for astronauts and satellites in orbits.
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, which caught the two storms on film, had this to say:
The red-glowing looped material is plasma, a hot gas made of electrically charged hydrogen and helium. The prominence plasma flows along a tangled and twisted structure of magnetic fields generated by the sun’s internal dynamo. An erupting prominence occurs when such a structure becomes unstable and bursts outward, releasing the plasma.
The recent uptick in solar activity is due to the sun's 11-year solar weather cycle, which is expected to reach its climax in 2013. And there is a bright side for we Earthlings, says Tariq Malik at Space.com: Extra-intense geomagnetic storms lead to "supercharged" auroras, making for "spectacular northern lights displays" for sky-watchers at high latitudes.