The face of our star

By Phil Plait | November 10, 2011 2:55 pm

The other day, when I found out that the giant sunspot cluster Active Region 1339 was coming around the Sun’s limb, one of the first things I did was email Alan Friedman and ask if he had plans to get pictures of it. His images of the Sun have graced this blog many times before (see Related Posts, below), and I knew he’d get a great shot.

A little while later he sent me the picture I posted yesterday, and I added the Earth to it for comparison. I didn’t like defacing his picture, but I thought putting our Earth there lent it some scale.

So just now I got another note from him: he told me he had created a full disk image of the Sun, and when I saw it, well, wow:

Yeah, wow. [Click to gdwarfenate.]

You can see the sunspots cluster to the right of center of the Sun’s face, and it’s still going strong. There’s been less storm activity than I expected from this, but the Sun is always surprising. And of course there are still a few days before the cluster slips behind the Sun’s edge, too.

You can also see lots of other sunspots, as well as some prominences — towering pillars and arcs of material — on the Sun’s edge. I’m also endlessly fascinated by the twisted, roiling surface of the Sun as well. Alan used an Hα filter here, which isolates light from warm hydrogen and really shows the detail of the solar surface (which is otherwise overwhelmed by light at all other colors).

If I had the time (and the wherewithal), I’d love to set up a solar telescope and take images like this. But I don’t, and that’s OK, because Alan and a whole legion of others can do it, and I’ll be happy to look at ’em.

Image credit: Alan Friedman.

Related posts:

Giant sunspots are giant
Solar purrominence
The boiling, erupting Sun

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Pretty pictures
MORE ABOUT: Alan Friedman, AR 1339, Sun

Comments (14)

  1. Maria

    It’s so fluffy I’m gonna die!

  2. Chris

    I think it’s upside down. After seeing it many times looking from the spaceweather site. That is a typical effect of looking through a telescope.

  3. Robin Byron

    Hey, Dad*. You look marvelous.

    *Well, it’s said Earth is our mother so it’s only logical Sun is our pop and we certainly wouldn’t be here without ‘him’, now, would we?

  4. Ganzy

    “gdwarfenate” LOL That’s a cracker! 😀

    Thanks Mr Friedman for capturing and sharing such staggering images!

  5. Messier Tidy Upper

    @ ^ Ganzy : Seconded by me. Great image. :-)

    Although it does look a little bit like our Sun has been covered in very large black cat (or dog?) hairs! 😉

    There’s been less storm activity than I expected from this, but the Sun is always surprising.

    Just not *too* surprising though I hope! 😉

    Do we have much of a grasp yet on how the current solar cycle is tracking and whether it is weaker or stronger than usual or as expected and average?

  6. Ganzy

    I only learned today that after the suns magnetic field flips the sunspots travel around the sun in the opposite direction, so after 2013-15 they will move from right to left across the surface of the sun instead of left to right as they are doing now.

    In retospect I suppose it is obvious now that would happen with polarity change and all, but wow, it never occured to me until I saw a video of it happening today. Keeeewl

  7. Messier Tidy Upper

    Off topic but still on things (sorta) solar; remember the weird flickering cloud video posted by the BA a while ago? :

    Well see what’s today’s ‘Astronomy Picture of the Day’ here :

    offering a new (?) explanation for it.

    See :

    For those unfamiliar with Sun dogs, “mock suns” or parheliae. 8)

  8. Ganzy

    Hey up Messier old cobber, I think your right on with the cat hairs. I think Mr Friedmans moggy must have found a comfy spot on top of that warm solarscope of his and couhged up a few fur balls 😀

  9. Wzrd1

    @Messier, the current cycle is actually quite lower than predicted, but it’s still beginning.
    But, I’d give a solid organ to have a FULL magnetic map of the sun!
    Astonishing to consider, but those sunspots are only magnetic tangles from the larger fields lower down in the solar surface.

    I DID get to see models of the Earth’s magnetic field at the core, looked like a ball of yarn that the cat got hold of, where the average of the tangles form our surface magnetic field.

  10. Ganzy


    Are those visualisations of the Earths magnetic core-field that you saw, available on line somewhere to see? I imagine it looked much like the core representation of the Sun I saw today.

  11. Wzrd1

    Yep, one is at
    Another, with finer graphics is at
    Can’t remember the other model I saw, which showed a higher resolution of the field lines at the core.

  12. PayasYouStargaze

    I actually got a great, and safe, naked eye view of the sun this morning. Here in Gibraltar we get a fairly thick and ever present “Levanter” cloud in easterly winds, caused by the humid air being forced over the Rock. Now the Sun “rises” over the Rock at about 10 am if you’re in town on the West side. When the sun rises behind this cloud you get a clear but not very bright, perfect white disk in the sky. It’s a very cool sight.

    Disclaimer: I wouldn’t recommend looking directly at the sun through a normal cloud. However it should be OK if you have a predictable cloud formation such as our Levanter cloud. But be careful anyway.

  13. Joe

    Chris: It depends on what time of day the photo was taken. The Sun is upside down once every day.

  14. How many billion pixels willa picture like this, but of the same scale of the sun, would have?

    Jajajaja. I think not even all the Hard-Discs in the planet would be enough to save it.


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