“Now we know what it would look like if Jupiter and the sun had a child,” joked Ralph Seguin of the Lockheed-Martin Solar and Astrophysics Lab, trying to explain this weird image. So, just what is it? Some people have been calling it “Sunpiter,” since parts of it looks like the Sun, and other parts look like Jupiter. It really is the Sun, as seen by the Solar Dynamics Observatory, which was having a tough day. Normally, SDO gets a great view of the Sun, but the spacecraft occasionally gets its view blocked by the Earth, in a unusual kind of eclipse. This image is a composite of multiwavelength images and a magnetogram taken by SDO just as the sun was emerging from its daily blackout. “SDO has entered eclipse season,” said Seguin. “Around the time of the equinoxes, the spacecraft, Earth, and sun can line up almost perfectly. Once a day for about an hour, Earth blocks SDO’s view of the sun.” And this is the result.
Magnetograms are computed from a series of images taken over a short time span. The ribbons of color result from Earth’s motion across the sun during the series of exposures. This eclipse season for SDO lasts until October 6, 2010.
You can see a short movie clip here of what SDO sees during an eclipse, which isn’t much.
Nancy Atkinson is currently Universe Today’s Contributing Editor. Previously she served as UT’s Senior Editor and lead writer, and has worked with Astronomy Cast and 365 Days of Astronomy. Nancy is the author of the new book “Incredible Stories from Space: A Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Missions Changing Our View of the Cosmos.” She is also a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador.