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
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!
Yesterday, io9.com writer Robert Gonzalez shared a truly incredible image of a sunspot taken by the New Solar Telescope (NST) at Big Bear Solar Observatory in California. The detail of the magnetically-active region and surface of our home star is simply stunning, thanks to the NST’s new Visible Imaging Spectrometer — literally setting a new record for the most detailed visible-light image of a sunspot ever.
In sharing the image on my Facebook page (you ARE following me there, right? 🙂 ) I was alerted by follower Cody Reisdorf that such images aren’t new; sunspot photos and videos have been being captured for quite some time — albeit not to such a fine degree of clarity — by other observatories, notably the Swedish Solar Telescope (SST) located on the island of La Palma. The video above was made from SST observations in May 2010 by Vasco Manuel de Jorge Henriques of the Institute for Solar Physics. It shows the mesmerizing magnetic movements of a sunspot, which is basically an optically-dark region on the Sun’s surface where upwelling magnetic fields prevent convection from occurring.
It doesn’t have the incredible clarity of the NST image, but it does show the dynamics of the Sun’s surface. Amazing to think these blemishes are each easily as large or larger than our entire planet…incredible!
Thanks to Bob Trembley (another LITD fan) for uploading the video to YouTube… so I didn’t have to.
Video credit: SST/ISP/Vasco Manuel de Jorge Henriques
As you read this, a huge cloud of charged solar particles is speeding toward our planet, a coronal mass ejection resulting from an X1.4-class flare that erupted from sunspot 1520 on July 12. The CME is expected to collide with Earth’s magnetic field just after 6 a.m. EDT Saturday, potentially affecting satellite operations and tripping alarms on power grids, as well as boosting auroral activity. (And this may not be the last we see from this sunspot, either.)
This animation, made from images taken by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, shows active region 1416 as it rotated into view over the past week, doubling in size as it approached the center of the Sun’s disk.
According to SpaceWeather.com’s Dr. Tony Phillips, AR1416 is magnetically charged in such a way as to be ready to release an M-class flare at any time. If this happens over the next couple of days, it will be aimed directly at Earth…
Hot off the presses, here’s a stunning full-disc solar photo by the inimitable Alan Friedman, taken on November 6, 2011 from his location in Buffalo, NY. Absolutely gorgeous!
The enormous sunspot region AR 1339 can be seen just right of the center of the Sun. It’s nearly 17 times wider than Earth!
Hydrogen alpha (Ha) is a specific wavelength of light (656.28nm) emitted by hydrogen atoms. By filtering for just this wavelength of light, details of the Sun’s photosphere can be made out whereas otherwise they’d be lost in the glare of our home star.
Image © Alan Friedman. All rights reserved.