False colour images of the Sun show a highly complex structure near the surface with matter ejected and suspended in magnetic fields. But are solar prominences and coronal mass ejections visible to humans?

Here is a typical false colour image you see online:enter image description here

Wikipedia shows a true colour image of the Sun which has no such details visible: enter image description here

The Wikipedia article for solar prominence says:

Solar prominences can sometimes be visible in red around the edges of the Sun during a total solar eclipse.

The accompanying image shows red tones:

enter image description here

Science fiction often shows stars similar to the false colour one. Can a star ever look like this in visible light?

enter image description here

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    $\begingroup$ You have a contrast problem. The reason the prominences can be seen in the third image is they are off the limb of the Sun with the solar disk blanked out. I think the first picture is in X-rays so isn't what you could see. $\endgroup$
    – ProfRob
    Aug 11, 2022 at 11:32
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    $\begingroup$ "True Color' goes "white" when a certain irradiance (intensity level) is reached, regardless of the actual visible spectral irradiance curve. If you take a photo of the sun with a sufficiently strong ND filter you'll see what colors are there -- to the limit of your camera's RGBG transfer curves. $\endgroup$ Aug 11, 2022 at 14:08

1 Answer 1


I'm not a 100% sure of my answer, but here's my go at it, after having done a course on basic statistical physics.

We should be able to see the CME and solar prominence in visible light theoretically. But we can't just tell them apart in reality from the photosphere - since the features on the sun and the sun's photosphere is super hot and glows white on average.

Even if the CME has a temperature over a million Kelvins compared to that of the photosphere - at nearly 6,000 K - the light is too intensely bright to clearly distinguish features on the surface of the sun (this should explain pic 2). Perhaps the only way to see a solar prominence/CME in visible light is to use a coronagraph (as done in the third image in the question).

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    $\begingroup$ "white" just means saturation overload. $\endgroup$ Aug 12, 2022 at 12:10
  • $\begingroup$ This doesn't answer the question. $\endgroup$
    – WarpPrime
    Aug 12, 2022 at 18:08
  • $\begingroup$ "...the light is too intensely bright to clearly distinguish features on the surface of the sun..." one could wear sun glasses $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Aug 13, 2022 at 19:55

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