Blog Archives

What is a Neutron Star, Anyway?

Neutron stars are strange cosmic beasts. Stellar corpses that are several times the mass of our Sun but only about the width of Manhattan, they can contain a mountain’s worth of star-stuff within the space of a sugar cube, creating all sorts of weird physics that requires funny-sounding names like “quark-gluon plasma” to even try to describe what’s going on. The video above, created by Munich-based design studio Kurzgesagt (which means “in a nutshell” in German) illustrates how neutron stars form and what we think is happening on, around, and inside them.

See more In a Nutshell videos by Kurzgesagt on YouTube here, and find some interesting neutron star facts below:

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Our Sun is Awesome

It really is. I mean, nevermind that it comprises over 99% of all the mass in our solar system, that it supplies our planet with the energy needed to sustain life on its surface, that its constantly-blowing solar wind helps keep some of those nasty cosmic particles out of the planetary neighborhood, and that it makes a bright sunshiny day even possible (but remember to wear sunscreen!)… in addition to all that, it’s also just really, really cool.

Watch the video above and you’ll see what I mean.

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A Backyard View of a Solar Prominence

Hydrogen-alpha photo of the Sun by Alan Friedman

An enormous tree-shaped prominence spreads its “branches” tens of thousands of miles above the Sun’s photosphere in this image, a section of a photo acquired in hydrogen alpha (Ha) by Alan Friedman last week from his backyard in Buffalo, NY. Writes Alan on his blog, “gotta love a sunny day in November!”

Check out the full image — along with an idea of just how big this “tree” actually is — here.

A Tall Tale of a Prominent Figure

An exceptionally tall prominence on the Sun. © Alan Freidman.

Taken on July 29, 2010, this hydrogen-alpha-light photo by Alan Friedman shows a delicate, wispy solar prominence stretching more than 200,000 miles from the Sun’s limb… nearly as far as the distance from Earth to the Moon!

This photo was taken with Alan’s backyard telescope from his location in Buffalo, NY. Many of his solar photos have been featured on prominent (no pun intended) astronomy and news websites. See more of Alan’s images on his blog here.

Credit: Alan Friedman. All rights reserved.

Sun Pass

The ISS crosses the disk of the Sun. Click for full-size version. © Alan Friedman.

Astronomy hobbyist and solar photographer extraordinaire Alan Friedman captured a wonderful image of the International Space Station transiting the edge of the Sun’s disc during a Winter Star Party in Florida on March 1, 2011. Taken with a solar telescope that images the Sun in hydrogen alpha light, the image above clearly shows the ISS with solar panels outstretched – as well as the space shuttle Discovery docked in its lower center! Fantastic!

But this was no chance snapshot…precision timing and positioning were required. Alan explains:

“I was scheduled to give my talk 12:30-1:30 – the transit centerline was 69 minutes later, 20 miles to the north on Marathon.With help from Brian Shelton and Mark Beale, I finished my talk, jumped into the car with solar imaging gear and we got set up just in time to catch it. I underestimated the narrowness of this event. We were about 5000 feet south of the centerline in a good location… another 500 feet and we would have missed it entirely. Lucky day!”

– Alan Friedman

Lucky, perhaps, but a less-skilled photographer might have missed the shot entirely! Don’t sell yourself short, Mr. Friedman. :)

The dark silhouette of Discovery is visible at the center of the ISS

To think…the ISS is 220 miles above the Earth, the Sun 93 million miles further. And here they are together in perfect focus. Talk about from here to infinity!

Alan’s images have been frequently featured on as well as, the Huffington Post,  several installments of Astronomy Picture of the Day…and, of course, here on Lights in the Dark! (And lots more places too.) You can see another solar image by Alan taken during the Winter Star Party here.

Be sure to check out Alan’s astrophotography site for more great images and fine art prints of his photos available to order!

Image © Alan Friedman. All rights reserved.

Active region is active.

Coronal mass ejection on February 27, 2011

Active region 1163-1164 kept the show going this morning, February 27 2011, with a large coronal mass ejection (CME) that erupted at around 4:30am EST from the Sun’s western limb. The animation above was made from ten high-resolution images taken by the Solar Dynamics Observatory, and shows this particular flare in action. (Click the image for a larger version of the animation.)

The small circle at upper left is the proportional size of Earth.

Coronal mass ejections are huge bubbles of gas bounded by magnetic field lines that are ejected from the Sun over the course of several minutes or even hours. If they are directed toward Earth, the cloud of charged solar particles can interact with our magnetosphere and cause anything from increased auroral activity to radio interference to failure of sensitive electromagnetic equipment.

As this active region rotates towards Earth over the next few days we may come under fire from solar flares aimed our way…or not. Really no way to predict such things until we see them happen, in which case we have a day or so before the ejected particle cloud crosses the 93 million miles between the Sun and Earth.

This same region produced a large flare just a couple of days ago…view an animation of that here.

Image: Courtesy of NASA/SDO and the AIA, EVE, and HMI science teams. Animation by J. Major.


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