SDO Seeing ‘Butterfly Effect’ on the Sun

Article written: 25 May , 2010
Updated: 24 Dec , 2015
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Already, the Solar Dynamics Observatory, or SDO, has taken over 5 million images, and the firehose of data and spectacular images is allowing solar scientists to begin understanding the dynamic nature of solar storms. With SDO, scientists are seeing that even minor solar events can have large effects across the Sun. “In essence, we are watching the butterfly effect in action on the Sun,” said Dean Pesnell, SDO project scientist.

The Atmospheric Imaging Assembly (AIA), one of three instruments aboard SDO, records high-resolution full-disk images of the Sun’s corona and chromosphere in more channels and at a higher rate than ever before. “This will allow us to zoom in on small regions and see far more detail in time and space, and zoom in on any part we want,” said Pesnell. “By looking at entire Sun we can see how one part of the Sun affects another. You can then zoom in to measure the changes in great detail.”

Large eruptive prominence on the sun's edge, as seen by SDO. Credit: NASA


Shortly after AIA opened its doors on March 30, scientists observed a large eruptive prominence on the sun’s edge, followed by a filament eruption a third of the way across the star’s disk from the eruption.

“Even small events restructure large regions of the solar surface,” said Alan Title, AIA principal investigator at Lockheed Martin Advanced Technology Center. “It’s been possible to recognize the size of these regions because of the combination of spatial, temporal and area coverage provided by AIA.”

At the 216th American Astronomical Society meeting this week, Title said that some of the initial data from SDO is providing maps of magnetic fields and movies that are giving scientists some confidence in trying to decipher the cause and effect of solar storms

AIA observed a number of very small flares that have generated magnetic instabilities and waves with clearly-observed effects over a substantial fraction of the solar surface. The instrument is capturing full-disk images in eight different temperature bands that span 10,000 to 36-million degrees Fahrenheit. This allows scientists to observe entire events that are very difficult to discern by looking in a single temperature band, at a slower rate, or over a more limited field of view.

Solar storms produce disturbances in electromagnetic fields that can induce large currents in wires, disrupting power lines and causing widespread blackouts here on Earth. The storms can interfere with global positioning systems, cable television, and communications between ground controllers and satellites and airplane pilots flying near Earth’s poles. Radio noise from solar storms also can disrupt cell phone service.

To help scientists and the public to understand and have access to the large amount of data being returned by SDO, the science team has built some tools to help communicate the data.

New websites will help researchers find data sets relative to their topics of interest and provide an overview to the casual observer.

“SDO generates as much data in a single day as the TRACE mission produced in five years,” said Neal Hurlburt from SDO mission, from Lockheed Martin. “We want to share it with the public, but we want to do it in an effective way, so we developed the Heliophysics Events Knowledgebase (HEK) and the Sun Today Website.”

The Sun Today website displays the current state of events on the sun. These can guide researchers and others to more detailed descriptions and access to associated SDO data.

HEK includes the Event and Coverage Registries (HER, HCR), Inspection & Analysis Tools, Event Identification System and Movie Processing. Event services enable web clients to interact with the HEK.

There is also a tutorial on how to work with the data, and extract images and movies from the SDO data.

More info: SDO website.

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7 Responses

  1. Member
    Zargon says

    I am in love with the SDO. The images and videos that are coming down are stunning.

    Visited ‘The Sun Today’ website and enjoyed the images posted there – but was a little surprised to see that someone is using the site to get involved in anti-Microsoft campaigning.

    i.e. (1) the search function does not ‘support’ Internet Explorer – most common browser in the universe. I wonder if there is a genuine technical reason for this.

    (2) A very partisan message about “recommended” browsers appears when you open the page.

    (3) the favicon the site uses is the Apple Macintosh logo – (tiny icon next to the web address). What possible justification could there be for this?

    As the project – and presumably the website – are paid for from public funds, isn’t it a mistake for them to get so overtly involved in browser and OS wars?

    I sent some feedback to the site giving a big ‘thumbs up’ to the science and a concerned ‘thumbs down’ to the strange techno-partisan content.

  2. stan9fos says

    In response to 1, 2, and 3: They prob. used a Mac to make their website, and all that you’re describing is likely the defaults you get when you use the Mac stuff to write a page. I’ve seen it before. By the way, you seem to be “overtly involved in browser and OS wars,” to be pointing this out. Since you seem so upset about it, maybe I better give this Mac thing a try?
    P.S. Thanks, Bill, for all the charity work, and a pox on your house for inflicting Vista on the rest us!

  3. Member
  4. Aodhhan says

    1. The government puts out bids with requirements like: It has to have a pillow, a tire, an antenna, a database; public has to be able to see this data, that data; give me visual reprensentations of this, that, etc.

    2. Bids come in: Bidder A can do it using Flash for 90 dollars, Bidder B can do it using VB and VS for 100 dollars, Bidder C can do it using Apple applications for 50 dollars.

    3. Award goes to the low bidder(yes there are other considerations…so don’t get cheeky). As long as they can meet all the requirements it doesn’t matter how it is done.

    For the most part, the public can get to the data without spending any money. I personally like using a Non IE or Netscape browser, but I can’t use it for all sites. Life can’t be easy for everything, and it cannot be handed to you, like your mommie mistakenly has done all the life for some people.

  5. Member
    IVAN3MAN_AT_LARGE says

    RE: Internet browsers.

    Recently, for some inexplicable reason, the Wikipedia logo appears out-of-place on their website when using IE8.

  6. Olaf says

    stan9fos, if you are a good developer you should not care about any browser wars. You will try to create something that works for all.

    Zargon has a point, the site gives an annoying message-box telling that only Chrome, Firefox and Safari is supported. This is not a wise choice since it shows that you are amateur site developer. I hope they fix it soon so that the annoying message-box should not be there.

  7. Member
    Zargon says

    The Sun Today web team replied to my email. Here is an edited version of their very good-natured response:

    “IE formats pages differently than Firefox, Chrome and Safari and we didn’t devote the manpower to make it compatible with IE because so many of our research colleagues (the original intended audience of the iSolSearch web app) use Linux and Mac and we had many other tasks to perform ourselves.”

    […] “IE doesn’t have native support for the HTML canvas element […] so the rendering of the schematic solar disk […] didn’t work. It seems people have found a workaround to this by implementing their own canvas library for IE (excanvas.js) and we are investigating whether this will resolve the problem.”

    “Regarding the favicon. It turns out the Sun Today page is hosted on a Mac and we suspect Apple’s version of the web server sets their logo as the default favicon. Thanks for pointing this out. We are working to replace this with the SDO or AIA logo.”

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