These images were taken yesterday at around 7:25 pm EST by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory, a satellite pointed at the Sun. What you're looking at are the first moments of a massive solar flare — an explosive force more powerful than all the firepower humans have created, combined. The different colors in the image are from the shots being filtered for different wavelengths of light.
While solar flares, in general, release mindbogglingly huge amounts of energy, this one was large and powerful even in relation to its brethren. The most intense solar flares are classified as "X" flares. Then, scientists add a number after the X to tell you how powerful the flare was. These images show the beginning of an X4.9 flare — big enough to make even the people who study massive solar eruptions sit up and go, "WOAH."
Maggie Koerth-Baker is the science editor at BoingBoing.net. She writes a monthly column for The New York Times Magazine and is the author of Before the Lights Go Out, a book about electricity, infrastructure, and the future of energy. You can find Maggie on Twitter and Facebook.