SDO's first year in space with bonus voting

By Phil Plait | April 26, 2011 7:00 am

NASA’s phenomenal Solar Dynamics Observatory has spent just over a year in space. During that time it has ceaselessly observed the Sun, returning incredibly detailed and exquisite images and videos. In high resolution we’ve seen sunspots, flares, coronal mass ejections, filaments, prominences, and towering loops of magnetic plasma.

To celebrate, the folks at SDO put together this video featuring 12 of their favorite clips. I’ve written about several of these myself in the past year (see Related Posts below). Make sure you set the resolution to 720p!

You can go to the SDO page to get a list of what you’re seeing.

In a related bit of news, NASA is asking people to vote on their favorite short video from SDO. Many of those clips are also in the above video, but they’re also listed separately on the NASA contest page. I know which one is my favorite… but I’m not telling.

The voting closes May 5th.

Related posts:

When the Earth takes a bite out of the Sun
An eclipse from space with a two-way Moon
kaBLAM! Footage of the X-class solar flare
Sunspot 1158 ain’t done yet
First earthward-heading solar flare of the cycle
The birth of sunspot cluster
Arc of dissent
A huge lopping prominence on the Sun
The Sun blasts out a flare and a huge filament
SDO lunar transit: now with video!


Comments (15)

  1. Cindy

    Perfect timing! Setting up the telescope (with solar filter) for my class to finally look at sunspots today. Been having typical spring clouds. My class used SDO’s continuum images to determine the rotational period of the Sun.

    Thanks, Phil!

  2. CameronSS

    Am I the only person who was waiting for Voyager to come zipping out from underneath a prominence?

  3. Kyle

    I love that sort of stuff. Kinda neat to see magnetism actually at work.

  4. mike burkhart

    Reminds me of a skylab photo of a solar flare one of the astronauts said “it looked like somebody kicked the !@#$ out of the sun” (by the way I censor the profanity because the only time I say those words is when I lose my temper and I think Phil wants a clean blog) Off Topic : The history channel had a program on about the center of the Earth . It simulated digging to the Earths core it dose dispell two things 1 digging to China ,the idea that you could dig thro the Earth and wind up in China (actully Im not sure the Nation of China is on the opposite side of the Earth From North America but Asia is ) as you go deeper it gets hotter and when you get to the mantel you would run into a magma pocket and fry. 2 The interior world the idea beleved by many acient cultures and even a few scienctists that there is another world inside the Earth with life and even people not true the Earth core is not only to hot for life to be there its also under high pressure so there is no interior world. But there are a few who beleve in it just like there a few who still think the Earth is flat.

  5. magista

    I’ve got an app on my phone (SolarMax) that shows similar pics from SOHO. I wonder if there will be one for SDO images?

    ETA: Yes! and it’s even free! and shows videos!

    Off to waste time now…

  6. Charlie Young

    I’m so used to static images from ground based telescopes. This really gets you to look at the dynamics of the Sun. I never really even considered the rotation of the Sun until I saw these videos. I love this stuff!

  7. Truly amazing video. Thank you for posting this Phil. (I’ve been a fan of yours for a while.)

  8. Bali

    Cool images! But how fast are these animations compared to the real thing?

  9. I know some of these (all?) are accelerated. I’d love to see a video put together in real time, although they might have to extrapolate between frames. I think the real speed might give a different, and possibly more realistic idea of the scale.

  10. Messier Tidy Upper

    Wow. That’s magnificent. 8)

    Thanks SDO & thanks BA. I remember watching the launch of the SDO too. A year already?

    What’s more, I think, the best is yet to come as the solar cycle ramps up. :-)

  11. Messier Tidy Upper

    Thinking of the Solar Dynamics Observatory‘s launch – See :

    Methinks, *that*one should have been included there – perhaps the most spectacular shot of the SDO’s ever – even if it was inside its rocket at the time. How apt it blew away the Sun (“dog”) and is continuing to blow us away with it. May it do so for many years to come! 8)

  12. Lorena

    I really don’t understand the difference between a solar flare and a prominence :S

  13. Buzz Parsec

    Mike@4 – From most of North America, if you dug straight through the center of the earth, you would come out in the southern Indian Ocean, southwest of Australia. Since both North America and Asia are in the northern hemisphere, a straight line through the center of the earth can’t intersect both of them.

    From almost anywhere on land, the antipodal point is in an ocean. You would think by chance alone about 75% would be ocean, 25% land, since the earth is 75% ocean, but in fact almost none of the opposite points are on land. Just about the only exceptions are the southern tip of South America (Chile and Argentina) overlap with Asia, and parts of Australia overlap with Greenland, if I recall correctly. (I once got curious about this and checked.) This of course changes as the continents drift. In the time of Pangea, all the land was concentrated in one hemisphere. At other times, the continents were (or will be) more spread out and more likely to be opposite each other.

  14. Buzz Parsec

    I love coronal loops.

    One of my first jobs was to correlate Skylab EUV images with magnetic field observations from Kitt Peak and Sacramento Peak observatories, and compute the magnetic fields so they could be compared to the EUV images. I got mentioned in a foot note in Solar Physics, which is my scientific claim to glory. :-)

    The magnetic field lines matched up very nicely to the loops, which are generally anchored in sunspots of opposite magnetic polarities, like iron filings connecting the poles of a bar magnet.

  15. Buzz Parsec

    Lorena @ 12 –

    A solar flare occurs when sudden changes in the Sun’s magnetic field cause a cascade of particles (mostly electrons, I think) to accelerate violently and then, traveling along the magnetic field, smash into the surface* and ka-boom! Almost like a hyper-intense lightning strike. (Since the electrons are charged particles, it requires much less force for them to flow with the magnetic field than to cross it, so the currents follow the magnetic field lines.)

    [*] Since the Sun is gaseous throughout, it doesn’t really have a surface, but the density rapidly becomes much greater (like thousands or millions of times) as you descend through the corona (which is close to a vacuum) end enter the photosphere (which is generally considered the “surface” of the Sun.) According to a graph I found , the photosphere is about 11 orders of magnitude denser than the corona, so the electrons act like they’ve hit a solid wall when the strike it.

    A prominence is a big blob of gas (actually plasma) released into the corona by an active region on the Sun’s surface. They are cooler than the corona and appear as dark filaments when seen against the background of the Sun, but as bright prominences when they are near the limb of the solar disk and rise above it. Prominences often last for several days, versus solar flares which are all over in a few seconds. If a prominence is particularly energetic, instead of forming a big blobby loop through the corona, it will completely separate from the Sun and become a coronal mass ejection.

    Prominences and flares (and sunspots, coronal loops, and lots of other solar phenomena) are all related to active regions, which are places where kinks in the Sun’s magnetic field poke up through the surface. As I understand it (I don’t think this view has been overturned in the last 30 years), during the 11 year solar cycle, differential rotation causes the magnetic field to twist up in the Sun. (The Sun rotates faster at the equator than at the poles.) Like the rubber band in a balsa wood airplane, eventually it forms kinks. Because of the twisting, the magnetic field of the kinks runs in the opposite direction of the field below the Sun’s surface. When the kinks poke through the surface, they form active regions and sunspots and produce loops, flare, prominences, and so forth.

    As the differential rotation continues, more and more active regions get produced, until the total reversed field of the active regions exceeds the primary field and the whole magnetic system collapses, the Sun’s magnetic field reverses polarity, and another 11-year cycle starts, this time with a reversed field. So it is really 2 such cycles, or 22 years, to get back to the original condition.


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