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

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