It’s the job of NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory to keep an eye on the sun, a job the SDO has presented in a new video showing off three years’ worth of solar activity.
“In the three years since it first provided images of the sun in the spring of 2010, NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory has had virtually unbroken coverage of the sun’s rise toward solar maximum, the peak of solar activity in its regular 11-year cycle,” NASA said in a release.
The observatory captures an image of the sun every 12 seconds and does so on 10 different wave lengths (you can see some of the wavelengths separated out later in the video). The video actually shows the sun at 171 angstroms, which is in the extreme ultraviolet, and out of the normal visual range of human eyes. The wavelength was chosen because it makes it easy to see the turbulent activity on the surface of the sun as well as its 25-day rotation.
“During the course of the video, the sun subtly increases and decreases in apparent size. This is because the distance between the SDO spacecraft and the sun varies over time,” NASA explains.
At points in the video, the Sun is momentarily obscured by something moving in front of the camera. These are actually lunar eclipses (you can see them at around 30 seconds in and at about the two minute-28 second mark).
Another thing that’s notable about the video is how violent the sun’s surface seems. The face of the sun is covered with a constant dance of storms, and solar flares, all of which are tracked more closely with SDO than they were ever before.
“SDO’s glimpses into the violent dance on the sun help scientists understand what causes these giant explosions — with the hopes of some day improving our ability to predict this space weather,” NASA says.
The SDO was launched on February 11, 2010 and “is a sun-pointing semi-autonomous spacecraft that will allow nearly continuous observations of the Sun with a continuous science data downlink rate of 130 Megabits per second (Mbps). The spacecraft is 4.5 meters high and over 2 meters on each side, weighing a total of 3100 kg (fuel included). SDO’s inclined geosynchronous orbit was chosen to allow continuous observations of the Sun and enable its exceptionally high data rate through the use of a single dedicated ground station.”
(The music on the video is ”A Lady’s Errand of Love” – composed and performed by Martin Lass)
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