In somewhat cheerier news…
The other day I was sitting at my desk (like I do all day, every day) and took a swig of water from a bottle… and got a surprise.
It’s hard for me to express just how vivid these colors were. Here’s a picture I took:
Even this doesn’t really show it as vivacious and deeply hued as it appeared. And after all this happened that day I decided to leave the award up on my the window shelf; now every time the Sun sets I get a brilliant display of basic colors that crawls along my floor and then up the wall over the course of an hour or so. It lifts my spirits considerably every time.
Surprise science — and beauty — is maybe my favorite kind.
[Note: After I drafted this post but before I put it up, ESPOD put up a nice picture of a kitchen spectrum. Pretty!]
[Note: At the bottom of this post is a gallery of amazing pictures of the Sun from Earth and space!]
It’s so easy to take the Sun for granted. Too bright to even look at, we tend to think of it as a featureless white (or, misleadingly, yellow) disk, bereft of detail.
But then you see something like this, and it’s like a physical blow to your brain:
[Click to get access to the massive 2400 x 2500 pixel version of this (once there, click the "download" link).]
Holy heliotropism. Seriously.
What you’re seeing here is small region on the Sun’s surface at incredible resolution. This image shows an area of about 200,000 by 200,000 km (120,000 x 120,000 miles), only about 0.5% of the Sun’s visible disk. Yet the detail is amazing! The full-res version of this image shows features as small as a couple of hundred kilometers across — bear in mind, the Sun is a whopping 1.4 million kilometers (860,000 miles) in diameter!
To give you an idea of what you’re seeing, take a look at that sunspot in the lower right corner. See the roughly disk-shaped dark inner portion of it? Yeah, that’s the same size as the whole frakking Earth!
Here’s a zoom of the sunspot, taken in a way to show more detail:
Holy wow! Sunspots are where the Sun’s magnetic field breaks through the surface. Plasma — that is, gas stripped of one or more electrons, allowing it to be affected by magnetic fields — under the influence of that magnetic field cools off, so it doesn’t emit as much light as the rest of the surface. That makes sunspots look dark in contrast, but if they were floating by themselves in space they’d actually be very bright (think of a flashlight in front of a spotlight if that helps). Look at all the tendrils and structure inside the spot; that’s all due to the way the gas is flowing under the influence of the tremendous heat of the Sun and its powerful magnetic field.