Thursday, April 25, 2013

Watch 3 years of solar activity in a 3-minute video

By Deborah Netburn

Thanks to NASA, you can now stare at the sun for three minutes straight.

No, don't run outside and look up. Instead, check out the clip above that condenses three years of sun images into a hypnotic three-minute video that shows our closest star rotating on its axis, radiating energy and light.

The images in the video were taken by the Solar Dynamics Observatory, a NASA satellite that launched three years ago in 2010, with the express purpose of helping scientists better understand the sun and how its magnetic fields shift and change.

To that end, the Solar Dynamics Observatory is constantly monitoring the sun, including snapping an image of it every 12 seconds in 10 different wavelengths.

The video above was created by stitching together two of those images per day over a three-year period. The images in the video were taken in the extreme ultraviolet range and represent solar material at temperatures of about 600,000 Kelvin. Each image is displayed for two frames.

That spinning motion you see is the sun's 25-day rotation, and over the course of the video, you should be able to see solar activity grow as the sun nears the pinnacle of its 11-year solar cycle.

At the 00:30 mark and at 2:28 you can spot a partial eclipse of the sun by the moon, at 1:11 you will see the Aug. 9, 2011, X6.9 Flare, which was the largest solar flare of this solar cycle, and at 1:51 you will see the transit of Venus.

The sun does appear to subtly increase and decrease in size over the course of the video, but that's because the distance between the Solar Dynamics Observatory and the sun has changed a bit over time.

Admittedly, the video may seem repetitive to some viewers, but if you can stick it out till the end, you are treated to a four-wavelength view, which shows how different the sun appears depending on what wavelengths you are measuring.


Published on Apr 22, 2013

Music: "A Lady's Errand of Love" - composed and performed by Martin Lass

In the three years since it first provided images of the sun in the spring of 2010, NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) has had virtually unbroken coverage of the sun's rise toward solar maximum, the peak of solar activity in its regular 11-year cycle. This video shows those three years of the sun at a pace of two images per day.

SDO's Atmospheric Imaging Assembly (AIA) captures a shot of the sun every 12 seconds in 10 different wavelengths. The images shown here are based on a wavelength of 171 Angstroms, which is in the extreme ultraviolet range and shows solar material at around 600,000 Kelvin. In this wavelength it is easy to see the sun's 25-day rotation as well as how solar activity has increased over three years.

During the course of the video, the sun subtly increases and decreases in apparent size. This is because the distance between the SDO spacecraft and the sun varies over time. The image is, however, remarkably consistent and stable despite the fact that SDO orbits the Earth at 6,876 miles per hour and the Earth orbits the sun at 67,062 miles per hour.

Such stability is crucial for scientists, who use SDO to learn more about our closest star. These images have regularly caught solar flares and coronal mass ejections in the act, types of space weather that can send radiation and solar material toward Earth and interfere with satellites in space. SDO's glimpses into the violent dance on the sun help scientists understand what causes these giant explosions -- with the hopes of some day improving our ability to predict this space weather.

There are several noteworthy events that appear briefly in this video. They include the two partial eclipses of the sun by the moon, two roll maneuvers, the largest flare of this solar cycle, comet Lovejoy, and the transit of Venus. The specific time for each event is listed below, but a sharp-eyed observer may see some while the video is playing.

00:30;24 Partial eclipse by the moon

00:31;16 Roll maneuver

01:11;02 August 9, 2011 X6.9 Flare, currently the largest of this solar cycle

01:28;07 Comet Lovejoy, December 15, 2011

01:42;29 Roll Maneuver

01:51;07 Transit of Venus, June 5, 2012

02:28;13 Partial eclipse by the moon

More information about this video, as well as full HD version of all four wavelengths and print-resolution stills are public domain and can be viewed and downloaded at:

This video is public domain and can be downloaded.

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