On this Earth Day, NASA’s focused on the sun. It just released the first images from the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), launched in February to study our star in breathtaking detail at a rate of 60 images per minute. The new pictures include the evolution of this loop. Known as a prominence eruption, the loop was born from a relatively cold cloud of plasma, or charged gas, tenuously tethered to the sun’s surface by magnetic forces. Such clouds can erupt dramatically when they break free of the sun’s unstable hold [National Geographic].
Scroll through the gallery for a few more blazing wonders.
While astronomers continue to learn about peculiar phenomena in distant galaxies, our own sun’s behavior still presents a mystery. So NASA’s next mission, the Solar Dynamics Observatory, will watch every move the sun makes in the hope of fully figuring out its cycles of sunspots, solar flares, and other activity.
Set to launch next week aboard an Atlas V rocket, the SDO will snap 60 high-resolution images of the sun every minute. Using three specific science instruments, SDO will measure how much extreme ultraviolet light the Sun emits, map plasma flows in the Sun, map the surface of its magnetic field, and image the solar atmosphere [Astronomy]. Scientists hope this huge catalog of images, taken at a resolution far better than that of HDTV and measuring about 1.5 terabytes of data per day, will help them connect the flares and spots on the solar surface to what’s happening down below, inside the star.