You’ve probably never seen our Sun look like this before. This bizarre image of old Sol is made from data produced by three different space telescopes, each observing the Sun at a different wavelength.Continue reading “Images From Three Telescopes Merged Into One Spectacular Picture of the Sun”
Astronomers See Flashes on the Sun That Could be a Sign of an Upcoming Flare
Using data from the Solar Dynamics Observatory, scientists have discovered new clues that could help predict when and where the next solar flare might blast from the Sun.
Researchers were able to identify small flashes in the upper layers of the corona – the Sun’s atmosphere – found above regions that would later flare in energetic bursts of light and particles released from the Sun. The scientists compared the flashes to small sparklers before the big fireworks.Continue reading “Astronomers See Flashes on the Sun That Could be a Sign of an Upcoming Flare”
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133 Days of the Sun’s Glory
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center has released an hour-long time-lapse video that shows 133 days of the Sun’s life. The video shows the Sun’s chaotic surface, where great loops of plasma arch above the star along magnetic field lines. Sometimes the looping plasma reconnects to the star, and other times it’s ejected into space, creating hazardous space weather.Continue reading “133 Days of the Sun’s Glory”
New Solar Model Successfully Predicted Seven of the Sun’s Last Nine Big Flares
Since it launched in 2010, the Solar Dynamics Observatory has helped scientists understand how the Sun’s magnetic field is generated and structured, and what causes solar flares. One of the main goals of the mission was to be able to create forecasts for predicting activity on the Sun.
Using mission data from the past 10 years, SDO scientists have now developed a new model that successfully predicted seven of the Sun’s biggest flares from the last solar cycle, out of a set of nine.Continue reading “New Solar Model Successfully Predicted Seven of the Sun’s Last Nine Big Flares”
Time-Lapse Video Reveals 10 Years of the Sun’s Life Crushed into One Stellar Hour
I forget the Sun is a star.
I think we all do sometimes. It’s easy to take for granted. The Sun is that glowing thing that rises in the morning and sets in the evening that we don’t generally pay attention to as we go about our day. However, there are these rare moments when we’re reminded that the Sun is truly a STAR – a titanic living sphere of hydrogen smashing plasma a million times the volume of Earth. One of those rare moments for me was standing in the shadow of the 2017 solar eclipse. We had driven down from Vancouver to Madras, Oregon to watch this astronomical freak of nature. A moon hundreds of times smaller than the Sun, but hundreds of times closer, covers the face of the Sun for the majesty of a STAR to be revealed; the fiery maelstrom of the Sun’s atmosphere visible to the naked eye.Continue reading “Time-Lapse Video Reveals 10 Years of the Sun’s Life Crushed into One Stellar Hour”
Satellites Watched Mercury’s Transit From Space, Confirming That Yes, the Sun Has At Least One Planet
Do you wonder how astronomers find all those exoplanets orbiting stars in distant solar systems?
Mostly they use the transit method. When a planet travels in between its star and an observer, the light from the star dims. That’s called a transit. If astronomers watch a planet transit its star a few times, they can confirm its orbital period. They can also start to understand other things about the planet, like its mass and density.
The planet Mercury just transited the Sun, giving us all an up close look at transits.Continue reading “Satellites Watched Mercury’s Transit From Space, Confirming That Yes, the Sun Has At Least One Planet”
X-Rays Are Coming From The Dark Side of Venus
Venus and Mercury have been observed transiting the Sun many times over the past few centuries. When these planets are seen passing between the Sun and the Earth, opportunities exist for some great viewing, not to mention serious research. And whereas Mercury makes transits with greater frequency (three times since 2000), a transit of Venus is something of a rare treat.
In June of 2012, Venus made its most recent transit – an event which will not happen again until 2117. Luckily, during this latest event, scientists made some very interesting observations which revealed X-ray and ultraviolet emissions coming from the dark side of Venus. This finding could tell us much about Venus’ magnetic environment, and also help in the study of exoplanets as well.
For the sake of their study (titled “X-raying the Dark Side of Venus“) the team of scientists – led by Masoud Afshari of the University of Palermo and the National Institute of Astrophysics (INAF) – examined data obtained by the x-ray telescope aboard the Hinode (Solar-B) mission, which had been used to observe the Sun and Venus during the 2012 transit.
In a previous study, scientists from the University of Palermo used this data to get truly accurate estimates of Venus’ diameter in the X-ray band. What they observed was that in the visible, UV, and soft X-ray bands, Venus’ optical radius (taking into account its atmosphere) was 80 km larger than its solid body radius. But when observing it in the extreme ultraviolet (EUV) and soft X-ray band, the radius increased by another 70 km.
To determine the cause of this, Afshari and his team combined updated information from Hinode’s x-ray telescope with data obtained by the Atmospheric Imaging Assembly on the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO). From this, they concluded that the EUV and X-ray emissions were not the result of a fault within the telescope, and were in fact coming from the dark side of Venus itself.
They also compared the data to observations made by the Chandra X-ray Observatory of Venus in 2001 and again in 2006-7m which showed similar emissions coming from the sunlit side of Venus. In all cases, it seemed clear that Venus had unexplained source of non-visible light coming from its atmosphere, a phenomena which could not be chalked up to scattering caused by the instruments themselves.
Comparing all these observations, the team came up with an interesting conclusion. As they state in their study:
“The effect we are observing could be due to scattering or re-emission occurring in the shadow or wake of Venus. One possibility is due to the very long magnetotail of Venus, ablated by the solar wind and known to reach Earth’s orbit… The emission we observe would be the reemitted radiation integrated along the magnetotail.”
In other words, they postulate that the radiation observed emanating from Venus could be due to solar radiation interacting with Venus’ magnetic field and being scattered along its tail. This would explain why from various studies, the radiation appeared to be coming from Venus’ itself, thus extending and adding optical thickness to its atmosphere.
If true, this finding would not only help us to learn more about Venus’ magnetic environment and assist our exploration of the planet, it would also improve our understanding of exoplanets. For example, many Jupiter-sized planets have been observed orbiting close to their suns (i.e. “Hot Jupiters“). By studying their tails, astronomers may come to learn much about these planets’ magnetic fields (and whether or not they have one).
Afshari and his colleagues hope to conduct future studies to learn more about this phenomenon. And as more exoplanet-hunting missions (like TESS and the James Webb Telescope) get underway, these newfound observations of Venus will likely be put to good use – determining the magnetic environment of distant planets.
Further Reading: The Astronomical Journal
Watch Mercury Transit the Sun in Multiple Wavelengths
On May 9, 2016, Mercury passed directly between the Sun and Earth. No one had a better view of the event than the space-based Solar Dynamics Observatory, as it had a completely unobstructed view of the entire seven-and-a-half-hour event! This composite image, above, of Mercury’s journey across the Sun was created with visible-light images from the Helioseismic and Magnetic Imager on SDO, and below is a wonderful video of the transit, as it includes views in several different wavelenths (and also some great soaring music sure to stir your soul).
Mercury transits of the Sun happen about 13 times each century, however the next one will occur in only about three and a half years, on November 11, 2019. But then it’s a long dry spell, as the following one won’t occur until November 13, 2032.
Make sure you check out the great gallery of Mercury transit images from around the world compiled by our David Dickinson.
A Mesmerizing Look at Year 4 of the Solar Dynamics Observatory
Four years ago today, the Solar Dynamics Observatory embarked on a five-year mission to boldly go where no Sun-observing satellite has gone before. SDO uses its three instruments to look constantly at the Sun in ten different wavelengths. Called the “Crown Jewel” of NASA’s fleet of solar observatories, SDO is a technologically advanced spacecraft that takes images of the sun every 0.75 seconds. Each day it sends back about 1.5 terabytes of data to Earth — the equivalent of about 380 full-length movies.
SDO launched on Feb. 11, 2010, and it has since captured the amazing views of the ever-changing face of the Sun — the graceful dance of solar material coursing through the Sun’s the corona, massive solar explosions and giant sunspot shows. Enjoy this latest highlight video from year 4 from SDO!
I was priveldged to be able to attend the launch of SDO, and you can read our article about the launch here.
The launch included a little “special effects” that wowed the crowd. The Atlas rocket soared close to a sundog just as the spacecraft reached Max-Q, and a ripple effect was created around the spacecraft. You can watch the launch below to see what happened:
The Most Unique Eclipse Image You’ll Ever See
You’ve probably never before seen an image like the one above. That’s because it is the first time something like this has ever been created, and it is only possible thanks to two fairly recent NASA missions, the Solar Dynamics Observatory and the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. We’ve shared previously how two or three times a year, SDO goes through “eclipse season” where it observes the Moon traveling across the Sun, blocking its view.
Now, Scott Wiessinger and Ernie Wright from Goddard Space Flight Center’s Scientific Visualization Studio used SDO and LRO data to create a model of the Moon that exactly matches SDO’s perspective of a lunar transit from October 7, 2010. They had to precisely match up data from the correct time and viewpoint for the two separate spacecraft, and the end result is this breathtaking image of the Sun and the Moon.
“The results look pretty neat,” Wiessinger said via email, “and it’s a great example of everything working: SDO image header data, which contains the spacecraft’s position; our information about lunar libration, elevation maps of the lunar surface, etc. It all lines up very nicely.”
‘Nicely’ is an understatement. How about “freaking awesome!”
And of course, they didn’t just stop there.
Since the data from both spacecraft are at such high resolution, if you zoom in to the LRO image, features of the Moon’s topography are visible, such as mountains and craters. This annotated image shows what all is visible on the Moon. And then there’s the wonderful and completely unique view in the background of SDO’s data of the Sun.
So while the imagery is awesome, this exercise also means that both missions are able to accurately provide images of what’s happening at any given moment in time.
Beautiful. See more imagery and info at this SVS page.