Solar Cinco de Mayo

By Phil Plait | May 8, 2012 10:25 am

Alan Friedman is a photographer who takes amazing pictures of the Sun. While others were out celebrating Cinco de Mayo this past weekend, he was outside taking another jaw-dropping image of the nearest star in the Universe:

Yegads! Click to ensolarnate, and he has a greyscale version, too.

I love the detail and texture of his images. He has an excellent telescopic setup which yields the superb resolution, and he employs an old trick to get the texture: he inverts the image of the Sun’s disk, making black stuff look white and vice-versa. This is a technique that’s been used by astronomers for decades to enhance images; our eyes see details better that way. When Alan does it, I swear it makes the Sun look like a 1.4 million-kilometer-wide shag rug.

All the way on the left, just on the Sun’s edge, you can see a group of sunspots just rotating into view. That’s Active Region 1476, and Alan provided me with a clear picture of them (no tom-foolery) which I’ve put here. That monster group is about 100,000 kilometers (60,000 miles) across, so when I saw them I immediately suspected trouble.

… and sure enough, they had a medium-sized eruption just this morning. At 13:00 UTC they blasted off an M1.4 class flare; big enough to potentially cause some radio disruption and maybe some aurorae. NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory got a dramatic view of the eruption:

Flares this size are relatively common; there was one in late March for example. Bigger ones happen less frequently, though again we did see one 50 times this powerful in March as well! We’ll have to see if today’s eruption will cause any aurorae, and either way, we should keep our eyes on AR1476.

Image credit: Alan Friedman, used by permission. Tip o’ the Sun visor to Camilla Corona SDO on Google+ for the video.


Related Posts:

- NASA’s guide to solar flares
- The Sun unleashes an X5.4 class flare
- The Sun’s Angry Red Spot
- The boiling, erupting Sun (to this day my favorite photo by Alan!)

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Pretty pictures

Comments (8)

  1. arabwhipmonk

    I think the inverted color picture above is centered on the H-alpha emission line, so we are seeing the abundant hydrogen, mostly in the sun’s photosphere. But then, on the left hand side of the disk you can notice some fuzzy floating thing. This I’m guessing is plasma at the apex of a prominence, emitting in that same wavelength. Anyways, my point was that the solar corona extends farther beyond the photosphere seen in the image, and a hint of that is present in the image itself.
    A question I have, if I’m right so far, is how come the hydrogen in the photosphere and the corona, which are at vastly different temperatures, are emitting at the same wavelength? Is the majority of the hydrogen emission in the H-alpha line or does the most common emission change with temperature, since at higher temperatures, we could have higher energy states?
    On a different note, some of the images of the solar surface on Alan’s tumblr remind me of those visualizations of ocean currents and winds released by NASA sometime earlier this year. Its cool that fundamentally different chaotic systems end up creating similar structures on different length and time scales. (Apologies for the long, digressing comment)

  2. Antti

    Looks like an egg cell.

  3. Your RSS feed says that after this post there is one about La Nina, but the link to it doesn’t work.

  4. arabwhipmonk

    In my previous comment, I said you can see the photosphere in that image. According to the photographer’s site, its the chromosphere. Kindly excuse my ignorance.

  5. JMW

    Is it just me, or does Active Region 1476 remind anyone else of the chain of Hawaiian Islands?…

    …which are region of Earth that is also prone to spewing out hot bits from the interior of the astronomical body on which they are situated…

  6. Tribeca Mike

    Superb photos indeed. Thanks for bringing them to our attention.

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