Our Sun may be made up of 98% hydrogen and helium but the remaining two percent comprises many other elements, detectable by their unique absorption lines within the gamut of white light we receive on Earth. One of those elements is calcium, which exists in ionized form in relatively tiny amounts in the Sun’s chromosphere – but still enough to allow images to be made using special filters aligned to the wavelength of its absorption line. And this is precisely what photographer Alan Friedman did on April 12, 2015 when he captured the image above!
It almost doesn’t look real but it is: the return of three humans aboard a Soyuz TMA-14M capsule after spending nearly six months aboard the ISS as part of Expedition 41/42, captured on camera by NASA photographer Bill Ingalls during their sunlit descent via parachute. The Soyuz landed in a remote area near the town of Zhezkazgan, Kazakhstan at 10:07 p.m. EDT March 11 / 02:07 UTC March 12. The landing site may have been in dense fog, but above the clouds the view was simply amazing!
Aboard the Soyuz TMA-14 were cosmonauts Elena Serova, Alexander Samokutyaev, and NASA astronaut Barry “Butch” Wilmore. See more photos from the descent and landing on the NASA HQ Photo album on Flickr here.
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.
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.
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:
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.