Two videos of the Sun: a blast and a blast-off

By Phil Plait | July 19, 2011 10:34 am

Scott Wiessinger produces video for NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center — my old stomping ground, and I did some work with the video folks while I was there, too — and he sent me links to two very cool videos he put together recently.

In early June the Sun erupted, letting loose a huge plume of plasma from its surface which then fell back down along magnetic field lines in a display the likes of which I had never seen before. I created a video (at the link above) which was far and away the most popular I’ve ever done, garnering nearly 1.5 million views as I write this.

But Scott’s video of the event is much, much cooler:

[Don’t forget to set the resolution as high as possible!]

Breathtaking, isn’t it? The video is greatly sped up; the whole event took many hours to complete. All the different animations were taken in the ultraviolet, where the highly-energetic plasma erupting from the Sun emits strongly. You can really see that the plasma does not fall along ballistic trajectories (the usual arcs due to gravity) but instead moves along the magnetic field lines, sometimes twisting around in non-intuitive ways. Beautiful, graceful, and stunning.

And I love the music*.

The second video is from a camera mounted on a sounding rocket, a rocket that goes essentially straight up and back down. At its highest point it goes up nearly 300 km (180 miles), well into space. It was carrying an instrument to observe the Sun in the ultraviolet.

Amazing, huh? Note that this video is in real time (except where noted), so when you see it spinning, it really is whirling around that quickly! It does that for stabilization; at about 1:45 into the video the rocket deploys two weights at the ends of cables which slow the spin down (like an ice skater with their arms outstretched to slow their spin). The payload instrument observes the Sun the whole time, and then the rocket falls back to Earth. I love how you can see the guy walking up in the last few seconds.

The thing that amazes me is how quickly the whole thing is over! Some of it is sped up, sure, but that rocket goes from 0 to space in about a minute or so, and it falls back to Earth just a few minutes later. But that’s enough to get a lot of science done. And when Virgin Galactic and other companies start doing this with people, the opportunities for science will increase gigantically.

* Scott told me the music is called "In The Beginning" and the composer’s name is Steele. It’s from a stock music site, so I don’t have any more info than that.

Related posts:

The Sun lets loose a HUGE explosion
Barnstorming the final frontier
Researching at the edge of space
Amazing video of a comet on a solar death dive

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Cool stuff, Pretty pictures

Comments (32)

Links to this Post

  1. Epic « Sore Eyes | July 21, 2011
  1. Very cool videos. I especially liked the audio from the sounding rocket. Definately not the type of stuff we’ve become accustomed to expect from exposure to years of Hollywood productions.

    BTW: The music from the first video sounded like Enya to me, but I see from your footnote that it wasn’t.

  2. Phil, thanks for consistently giving me opening videos to play for my astronomy classes. I probably should cut you a check.

  3. ronmurp

    The ‘clunk!’ of the landing sounded like an Eastern European artsy cartoon track. Amusing.

  4. And when Virgin Galactic and other companies start doing this with people, the opportunities for science will increase gigantically.

    Not to mention the opportunities for recreational sex. Oops! Just mentioned it.

  5. That was awesome! Except why didn’t the rocket burn up on re-entry? Just because it wasn’t moving at orbital velocities?

  6. Michael

    Phil… finding this stuff and then showing us… makes you seriously cool. Both of the videos were amazing!



    One never goes broke when catering for the lowest common denominator! 😉

  8. Calli Arcale

    I also loved the sound in the second video. Eerie how the sound suddenly fades away to nothing as it leaves the atmosphere — not that it’s totally silent, as sound can still transmit through the rocket’s structure, and *does*, which is way cool! It shouldn’t be surprising, but somehow it is.

    And the solar eruption is just plain wow. It was gorgeous to begin with, but that video puts it all together in a stunning presentation.

  9. I love the last few seconds of the second video. Can you imagine seeing something like that after we touch down on another planet?

  10. DrFlimmer

    I really like the first video. The music is awesome, but especially that the solar material is not just ejected, but also splashes down again (one can really see the splash!!!! holy crap!) really strikes home. Amazing!

    @ kuhnigget:

    You got it, buddy! 😀

  11. Paul

    That was awesome! Except why didn’t the rocket burn up on re-entry? Just because it wasn’t moving at orbital velocities?

    That’s correct. I’ll add that if it were reentering near vertically at orbital velocities the heat load would be even higher than a typical reentry from low earth orbit, since it would have to decelerate brutally to avoid lithobraking.

  12. Blake

    “You can really see that the plasma does not fall along ballistic trajectories (the usual arcs due to gravity) but instead moves along the magnetic field lines, sometimes twisting around in non-intuitive ways. Beautiful, graceful, and stunning.”

    It looks to my unprofessional eye like the ejected gas follows a largely ballistic trajectory until just before crashing back to the “surface”, where it becomes increasingly more affected by the magnetic field lines which only then dominate over the ballistic path in terms of force.

    The adiabatic (I assume) heating of the chromosphere/ photosphere as the relatively cool blobs of gas smash into it after falling from a great height is particularly interesting.

  13. Joel

    Re: Second video.

    They can’t fool me, labelling it lens flare! Pfft. That’s blatantly a Mark 7 Battle Saucer from Metebelis 3.

    Seriously though, stunning stuff. I’m presuming the Virgin Galactic craft won’t spin so much though, otherwise I might think twice about giving it a go.

  14. Grand Lunar

    First video;
    Impressive! It’s neat how the plasma that crashes back to the surface lights up when it crashes. The shockwave is noticable too.
    I hope video like this is shown in science classrooms, even if just for show.

    Second video;
    I’m now inclined to look up more on sounding rockets!
    Are these the ones that explore what’s been dubbed the “ignore-o-sphere”?

  15. I am re-reading your book DFTS and many ideas came to my mind after watching the video. It is really fantastic how energetic is our Sun and how magnetism plays an important role in its behavior. After all, it´s a STAR, and it has personality. :)

  16. KDS7000

    I call mild shame on the video producers at Goddard for giving their satellite sound in the intro and outro bumpers. Shame, shame O_0

  17. jearley

    I guess that you will have to dig out a copy of the NASA Sutra…

  18. Sam H

    All I can say is something along the lines of WHOA – similar to Neo’s reaction at awesome flying black men. But anyway: seeing those delicate, ethereal tendrils come back down – and not only that, but block some light from the surface so that it really reveals their true nature as darker gas is absolutely stunning. Something in me almost sees a dance of angels, or some kind of ballet by plasmic ghosts played out on a nuclear stage hundreds larger than Earth – but then again, humans can find meaning in anything. But how amazing the universe is – and shocking that so little was seen in the visible!! I sure hope that at least one alien intelligence, far removed from our mote of a world, would grow up seeing infrared or some other part of the spectrum – in terms of perception of beauty, they could be higher up on the Platonic line than us!! (assuming, of course, that their concept of beauty is even remotely similar to ours, which I hope to God it is.)

    The only way I can finish is to throw up J.B.S. Haldane: “The universe is not only queerer than we suppose but queerer than we can suppose.” Aside from that, general AWESOME.

    As well – while I didn’t listen to the music, I can already think of a better soundtrack to go with the first vid (and also an excuse to promote the upcoming album of one of my fav severely underrated artists!!):

  19. Messier Tidy Upper

    Great videos. Thanks BA. 😀

    Kaleidoscopic on the second one with the spinning.

    Gave a good idea of the size of the payload at the end there too – we just needed a big ant or spider to wander right up to the camera at the end post-landing. 😉

    Spectacular on the first – love the side by side comparison in the various wavelengths there. :-)

  20. The last video was excellent! Love how fast it stops spinning.

  21. JupiterIsBig

    Thanks Phil,
    Those are indeed awesomely incredible !

  22. JIm

    I thought the sun camera was toast, but it seemed to recover well once on the ground.

  23. Aubri

    Huh. Sounding rockets are a lot cooler than I’d really thought! I’d like to know exactly what type of sounding rocket it was, so I can look it up on Wikipedia…

    @12 Paul, The word “lithobraking” makes me laugh.

  24. Aubri

    Edit: I found the experiment homepage. It’s a Black Brant stack, which uses a Terrier SAM for the first stage booster.

  25. Love love loved the first video. My jaw dropped on the extreme closeup that showed the material actually getting sucked into the other sunspot area. Had to rewind and watch that bit a couple of times…

    Second video… very cool. I just wish they’d included some sort of mission elapsed clock. I would have liked to know how long the whole video actually was.

  26. jrpowell

    Maybe NASA can snag money from the National Endowment for the Arts…

  27. Gary Ansorge

    Hmm, looks like old Sol ate too many beans the night before,,,

    Those blobs falling back to the solar “surface” are bigger than earth. I wonder how much of the plasma managed to attain solar escape velocity.

    Gary 7

  28. JIm

    171 angstroms. That is impressive. Never seeing units, I assumed it was 171 nanometers.

  29. Pete Jackson

    Absolutely stunning, Phil. Kudos to NASA/Goddard for putting these videos together, and to you for finding them and showing them to us.

    It’s incredible looking at this frame-by-frame (by quickly clicking between pause and play) at the big explosion at 1:08 and seeing the shock waves go out.


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