Look out SDO—there’s another set of eyes watching the Sun in a wide swath of wavelengths! The images above are the first from the Solar Ultraviolet Imager (SUVI) instrument aboard NOAA’s new GOES-16 satellite, positioned in a geostationary orbit about 22,200 miles from Earth. These are SUVI’s first successful test images, captured on Jan. 29, 2017; once fully operational SUVI will monitor the Sun round the clock in six different UV and X-ray wavelengths, providing up-to-date data on the behavior of our home star.
Watch the first video of the Sun from GOES-16 data below:
On May 9, 2016, over the course of seven and a half hours beginning at 7:12 a.m. EDT (11:12 UTC) Mercury passed across the disk of the Sun, appearing to observers on Earth as a small dark dot in front of the massive brilliance of our home star. While the event wasn’t visible to the naked eye (the Sun is just too bright and Mercury just too small) those with filtered telescopes and solar projection devices (like what I had set up) were able to see Mercury silhouetted against the Sun, and that most certainly included solar photography master Alan Friedman who captured the amazing image above from his home in Buffalo, NY.
Happy Launchiversary SDO! NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory lifted off aboard an Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral on Feb. 11, 2010, and has been observing our home star in high-definition ever since. SDO has provided us with unprecedented views of the Sun’s ever-changing atmosphere and data on the space weather it creates over the course of its prime mission and, now in an extended mission, will hopefully continue to do so for many years to come.
The video above is a compilation of images SDO acquired with its Atmospheric Imaging Assembly (AIA) instrument during 2015, made into a single time-lapse video. Each frame is 2 hours of real time and clearly shows the Sun’s constant magnetic activity and movement of its 25-day-long rotation.
Short blank gaps and shifts in movement are due to SDO going offline occasionally for recalibration and repositioning itself in Earth orbit (and sometimes the Moon and Earth even get in the way briefly!) At 2:50 a solar physicist from Goddard Space Flight Center describes some of the features seen in the video, so be sure to watch the whole thing. (You can find an even higher-resolution version here.)
Learn more about SDO and see its most recent images 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.
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.