Category Archives: sun

Hinode Watches the Sun Weave Its Magnetic Web

Image of the Sun from NASA's SDO spacecraft AIA assembly showing a PFSS (Potential Field Source Surface) map of its magnetic field lines. (Credit: NASA/SDO and the AIA science team.)

Image of the Sun from NASA’s SDO spacecraft AIA assembly showing a PFSS (Potential Field Source Surface) map of its magnetic field lines. (Credit: NASA/SDO and the AIA science team.)

Many of the features seen on the Sun might look like tongues of flame or fiery eruptions, but there’s no fire or lava on the Sun – its energetic outbursts are driven by powerful magnetic fields that rise up from its internal regions and twist, loop, and coil far out into space.

In addition to these far-reaching lines there is a network of magnetic fields that cover the Sun’s “surface” (that is, its photosphere) like a web – a web outlined by the edges of large-scale features called supergranules. Created by rising zones of hot solar material, these 35,000km-wide “bubbles” on the photosphere carry bundles of magnetic regions to their edges, fueling the network.

What one team of researchers has now found , through long-term observations with the Hinode satellite, is that the supergranules are able to replenish the entire magnetic surface web in a surprisingly short time – only 24 hours.

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SpaceX Sends NOAA’s DSCOVR On a Million-Mile Journey

Third time was definitely a charm today for SpaceX, NASA, and NOAA as the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) launched from Cape Canaveral aboard a Falcon 9 rocket after two scrubbed attempts. Liftoff occurred at 6:03 p.m. EST on Wednesday, Feb. 11 into a clear sky as the Sun was setting – a truly picturesque backdrop for what turned out to be a perfect launch. Visibility was good enough to catch sight of the first stage separation and payload fairing jettison from the ground!

Watch the video replay above of the launch from the NASA TV feed.

DSCOVR will journey outwards to its destination at the Sun-Earth Lagrange point 1 (L1), located nearly a million miles away from Earth toward the Sun. There it will insert into a stable orbit from where it can observe both the Sun and Earth, monitoring various aspects of Earth’s climate as well as keeping an eye on potentially disruptive solar storms up to a full hour before they arrive at Earth.

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Happy 5th Launchiversary SDO!

Five years ago today, at 10:23 a.m. EST on Feb, 11, 2010, NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory launched aboard an Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, sending the most advanced solar observatory satellite into orbit and giving us an amazing new look at our home star. Since then SDO has been monitoring the Sun on a constant minute-by-minute basis, sending back terabytes of data and capturing 200 million images over 1,826 days in space, 22,300 miles from Earth.

The video above is an homage to SDO from the team at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland. Here’s to five amazing years and hopefully many more ahead! Learn more about SDO and get the most up-to-date images and information here.

Also, watch the 2010 launch of SDO below:

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A Matter of Scale

Note: this post was first published on Feb. 22, 2011. I’m reposting it again today because 1. the video creator has since updated the soundtrack, and 2. it’s still awesome.


One of the things that fascinates me so much about the Universe is the incredible vastness of scale, distance and size.

On Earth we have virtually nothing to compare to the kinds of sizes seen in space. We look up at the stars and planets in the night sky but they are just bright points of light. Some brighter, some larger, some slightly different colors. But they’re still just points from where we stand. Even from space, seen by telescopes or by astronauts in orbit….still just points.

But they’re so much more than that, obviously.

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Four Years of SDO

It’s hard to believe it’s already been four years that NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory has kept a watchful eye on our home star, but here we are: 2014, and the four-year anniversary of the Feb. 11 launch has come and gone. Amazing. But what’s even more amazing are all the incredible observations and discoveries SDO has made of the Sun in that relatively short time!

Check out the video above, a compilation from the talented people over at Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, showing some of the best solar sights from SDO over the past four years.

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The Brightest Lights: 12 Awesome Space Stories of 2013

1400-image mosaic of Earthlings waving at Saturn on July 19, 2013 (NASA/JPL)

1400-image mosaic of Earthlings waving at Saturn on July 19, 2013 (NASA/JPL)

What a year for space exploration! With 2013 coming to a close I thought I would look back on some of the biggest news in space that I’ve featured here on Lights in the Dark. Rather than a “top ten” list, as is common with these year-end reviews, I’m going to do more of a month-by-month (hence the 12) to help recollect some of the amazing stories and sights that 2013 has brought us. And with some of the big headliners we’ve seen this year it’s easy to lose sight of the smaller (but no less fascinating) discoveries — so I’ll be sure to include some of those too. After all, when it comes to learning about the Universe there’s no “little” news!

Ready? Let’s go!

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