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:
The European Southern Observatory has begun imaging the Sun for the first time, using its Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA)—a suite of large dish-type telescopes located on a plateau 16,000 feet above sea level in the arid Chilean Andes. ALMA’s capabilities to observe in millimeter and submillimeter wavelengths allow imaging of the Sun’s dynamic chromosphere and the features within it, such as the center of a sunspot (above) that’s easily twice the size of Earth.
Read more here from ESO: ALMA Starts Observing the Sun
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.
It hasn’t even been found yet (they’re still working on that) but the recently-announced Planet Nine is already spurring discussion amongst the world’s astronomers. One of the recent topics surrounding this alleged new planet is (again, besides where it’s hiding) how it formed and how it got into the incredibly distant orbit it’s thought to be in. Estimated to be nearly as massive as Neptune, and possibly similarly gaseous as well, Planet Nine would be an anomaly among the small frozen balls of ice that typically haunt the outer Solar System. Recently, a team of scientists decided to investigate the possibility that Planet Nine did not originate in our Solar System at all but rather was captured from another star, back when the Sun’s stellar family was much closer together… and apparently much more trusting. (That’ll teach ’em.)
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.