Looking blankly at the Sun (which you should never do without protective eye gear), you might not think it’s very interesting. From our Earthly vantage point, our star looks like a bright but bland ball in the sky. But NASA’s Goddard Spaceflight Centre has just released a gorgeous video comprising years of highlights from the agency’s Solar Dynamic Observatory, and it shows just how dynamic our star really is:
Launched on February 11, 2010, SDO is the first mission launched under NASA’s Living With a Star program, a program designed to help us understand the Sun’s dynamic activity and its effects on the Earth. It’s trickier than just pointing a camera our star. The SDO orbits the Earth at about 6,876 miles per hour, and the Earth orbits the Sun at 67,062 miles per hour.
And yet the spacecraft is able to take incredibly clear and steady images of our Sun in striking detail. Since returning its first images of the Sun months after launch, SDO has had a nearly uninterrupted view of the Sun. It’s suite of three onboard instruments — the Atmospheric Imaging Assembly, the EUV Variability Experiment, and the Helioseismic and Magnetic Imager — all image the Sun almost constantly, simultaneously, and in multiple wavelengths. The Atmospheric Imaging Assembly, for example, takes one image of the Sun every 12 seconds in 10 different light wavelengths.
The video also displays solar flares and coronal mass ejections in exquisite detail, violent events that can send radiation and solar material hurtling towards Earth, knocking out satellites and causing electrical blackouts. Scientists ultimately hope the data from SDO will help explain these potential catastrophes so we can protect ourselves from space weather.
If you want to learn more about the Sun, check out this earlier video that shows similar details of the Sun but with expert commentary from Goddard heliophysicist Alex Young:
IMAGE: NASA Goddard/You Tube