Satellite time-lapse video shows an entire year of the Sun in stunning ultra high definition

By Tom Yulsman | February 14, 2016 1:37 pm
This video shows a closeup satellite view of the Sun for almost an entire year (from Jan. 1, 2015, to Jan. 28, 2015), in the form of one time-lapse sequence. The images in the animation were captured by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory spacecraft. At full resolution on YouTube, the video is ultra-high definition (3840x2160) running at 29.97 frames per second. Each frame represents 2 hours on the Sun. (Source: NASA)

This video shows a closeup satellite view of the Sun for almost an entire year (from Jan. 1, 2015, to Jan. 28, 2016), in the form of one time-lapse sequence. The images in the animation were captured by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory spacecraft. Try to watch it at full, 4K resolution. (Source: NASA)

Since NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory spacecraft became operational in late April of 2010, it has provided a trove of valuable data — and mind-boggling views of the Sun.

This past year was no exception, as the video above shows. It consists of imagery acquired by SDO from Jan. 1, 2015, to Jan. 28, 2016, in one stunning time-lapse sequence.

Click to play it on YouTube. And if your internet speed is high enough, watch it in ultra-high definition: 3840 x 2160 (in other words, 4K) and  29.97 frames per second. At this level, the video consists of one SDO image taken every two hours for almost a year.

SDO’s Atmospheric Imaging Assembly (AIA) instrument actually captures a shot of the Sun even more frequently than that: once every 12 seconds — and in 10 different wavelengths. The images that went into this time-lapse video were acquired at a wavelength of 171 angstroms, which is in the extreme ultraviolet (and invisible to our eyes).

Viewing the Sun at this wavelength allows us to see the ebb and flow of million-degree-Fahrenheit material in the Sun’s atmosphere, called the corona. Among other things, we can see material aligning in complex ways along the lines of magnetic force that weave through the corona. Hot, active regions glow with particular intensity. Explosive eruptions of radiation caused by the sudden release of built up magnetic energy can be seen too.

So can cooler, gargantuan loops and filaments of material, called prominences, consisting of plasma flowing along twisted magnetic field lines. At about three minutes into the video, you can see a line of these prominences seeming to hover within the corona.

When the twisted magnetic structures suspending a prominence within the corona become unstable, they can explode, propelling plasma outward into space in what’s known as a coronal mass ejection, or CME.

Closeup of a massive filament of plasma erupting from the Sun on August 31, 2012, as seen by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory spacecraft. (Source: NASA)

Closeup of a massive filament of plasma erupting from the Sun on August 31, 2012, as seen by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory spacecraft. (Source: NASA)

The closeup above is one of the more dramatic examples of a solar eruption captured by SDO. The resulting CME struck a glancing blow to Earth’s bubble of magnetic energy, the magnetosphere.

Here’s a video of the same eruption, showing the event from different perspectives and in varying wavelengths.

Screenshot from a video based on SDO imagery showing a giant filament erupting from the Sun on Aug. 31, 2012. (Source: NASA)

Screenshot from a video based on SDO imagery showing a giant filament erupting from the Sun on Aug. 31, 2012. (Source: NASA)

I particularly love the greenish coloring — and also what’s left behind after the eruption.

Sun

Source: David Cartier, Sr. via NASA

Those green tones match beautifully the aurora that ignited over the skies of Whitehorse in Canada’s Yukon Territory on Sept. 3, 2012, when the CME jostled Earth’s magnetosphere. Click on the thumbnail at right to see a beautiful photo of the display shot by David Cartier, Sr. (It will open on NASA’s website.)

Lastly, I’ll leave you with one of SDO’s most recent images of a solar prominence. It was acquired on Feb. 3, 2016. NASA calls it an “unraveling prominence,” for reasons that I think will be clear when you click on the image and then watch a time-lapse video of the event:

Screenshot of a Solar Dynamics Observatory video showing an elongated solar prominence ring up above the Sun and slowly unraveling over 17 hours on February 3, 2016. (Source: NASA)

Screenshot of a Solar Dynamics Observatory video showing an elongated solar prominence rising up above the Sun and slowly unraveling over 17 hours on February 3, 2016. (Source: NASA)

Launched on Feb. 11, 2010, SDO recently observed its 6th anniversary in space. It’s primary science mission was supposed to last a little over five years. We’re past that now, and the spacecraft seems to be going strong. When launched it had enough fuel to do maneuvering for 10 years. So if all goes well, we’ll continue to enjoy spectacular imagery, and science, from SDO for some years to come.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, select, Sun, Top Posts
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  • http://www.royalcert.com Alphan Namli

    Gargantuan loops and filaments of material, called prominences, consisting of plasma flowing along twisted magnetic field lines.

    • Tom Yulsman

      Yes, that’s what I wrote.

  • Mike Richardson

    It’s certainly practical, in terms of allowing better predictions of solar weather events, and any resulting impact on earth. But those are also some beautiful images, allowing us to see sun in ways that human eyes alone never could. It’s easy to forget and take for granted, but we’ve got our own star to study. Sol is generally considered an average, run-of-the -mill star, nowhere near as brilliant as Sirius, as large as Antares, or as long-lived as Barnard’s Star and it’s much more numerous red dwarf siblings. Still, there are plenty of stars like our sun in this galaxy, and studying Sol gives us more insight into them and some of the processes affecting all stars. Perhaps we’ll find there are characteristics of stars like our sun that give clues as to how likely there are to host life-bearing planets. Fascinating stuff.

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ImaGeo

ImaGeo is a visual blog focusing on the intersection of imagery, imagination and Earth. It focuses on spectacular visuals related to the science of our planet, with an emphasis (although not an exclusive one) on the unfolding Anthropocene Epoch.

About Tom Yulsman

Tom Yulsman is Director of the Center for Environmental Journalism and a Professor of Journalism at the University of Colorado, Boulder. He also continues to work as a science and environmental journalist with more than 30 years of experience producing content for major publications. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Audubon, Climate Central, Columbia Journalism Review, Discover, Nieman Reports, and many other publications. He has held a variety of editorial positions over the years, including a stint as editor-in-chief of Earth magazine. Yulsman has written one book: Origins: the Quest for Our Cosmic Roots, published by the Institute of Physics in 2003.

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