Super Moon? How About a Super Sun!

"On May 5, 2012, while everyone else was waiting for the “Super Moon” astrophotographer Alan Friedman was out capturing this super image of a super Sun from his back yard in Buffalo, NY!

Taken with a specialized telescope that can image the Sun in hydrogen alpha light, Alan’s photo shows the intricate detail of our home star’s chromosphere — the layer just above its “surface”, or photosphere.

Prominences can be seen rising up from the Sun’s limb in several places, and long filaments — magnetically-suspended lines of plasma — arch across its face. The “fuzzy” texture is caused by smaller features called spicules and fibrils, which are short-lived spikes of magnetic fields that rapidly rise up from the surface of the Sun.

On the left side it appears that a prominence may have had just detached from the Sun’s limb, as there’s a faint cloud of material suspended there.”


Solar Tornadoes: NASA Solar Dynamic Observatory Captures Footage of Tornadoes On the Sun

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And for those who have not seen: A tornado on the Sun.  The wild ride of the solar maximum has begun, and I’m so happy we have awesome technology to witness it up close and personal (just… hope no big flares come in Earth’s direction :) )

See the Sun in a Whole New Light.

Astrophotographer Alan Friedman captured this gorgeous portrait of the sun on April 7 from his home in Buffalo, NY, using a backyard solar telescope and a new Grasshopper CCD camera by Point Grey Research. Viewed in a wavelength emitted by hydrogen alpha (Ha) the sun’s surface details become visible, showing the complex texture of our home star’s true face.

BIG PIC: Sunspot 1302: A Big, Bad Beauty!

Hydrogen is the most abundant element found on the sun. The sun’s “surface” and the layer just above it — the photosphere and chromosphere, respectively — are regions where atomic hydrogen exists profusely in upper-state form, and it’s these absorption layers that hydrogen alpha imaging reveals in detail.

The “furry” texture of the sun’s surface is caused by structures called “spicules” — vertical tongues of superheated plasma that flare up from the photosphere. When observed inside the sun’s disk, the darker horizontal structure of spicules are known as “fibrils.” Plasma accelerated in spicules can travel vertically up to 55,000 mph and reach 3,000 miles (4,830 kilometers) in altitude before fizzling out — fibrils, on the other hand, appear somewhat less dynamic. There’s an estimated 100,000 spicules distributed across the face of the sun at any one time.”


All the Colors of the Sun | Astronomy Picture of the Day, October 2, 2013 | Image Credit & Copyright: Nigel Sharp (NSF), FTS, NSO, KPNO, AURA, NSF 

It is still not known why the Sun’s light is missing some colors. Shown above are all the visible colors of the Sun, produced by passing the Sun’s light through a prism-like device. The above spectrum was created at the McMath-Pierce Solar Observatory and shows, first off, that although our white-appearing Sun emits light of nearly every color, it does indeed appear brightest in yellow-green light. The dark patches in the above spectrum arise from gas at or above the Sun’s surface absorbing sunlight emitted below. Since different types of gas absorb different colors of light, it is possible to determine what gasses compose the Sun. Helium, for example, was first discovered in 1870 on a solar spectrum and only later found here on Earth. Today, the majority of spectral absorption lines have been identified - but not all. 

See high resolution here, & read more here.

Austrian Analemma - APOD

Image Credit & CopyrightRobert Pölzl

Today, the Sun crosses the celestial equator heading south at 14:49 Universal Time. An equinox (equal night), this astronomical event marks the first day of autumn in the northern hemisphere and spring in the south. With the Sun on the celestial equator, Earth dwellers will experience nearly 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of darkness. To celebrate, consider this careful record of the Sun’s yearly journey through southern Austrian skies. The scene is composed of images made at the same time each day, capturing the Sun’s position on dates from September 29, 2011 through September 9, 2012. The multiple suns trace an intersecting curve known as an analemma. In fact, the past year’s two equinox dates correspond to the middle (not the intersection point) of the curve. The summer and winter solstices are at the top and bottom. Of course, many would also consider it a good idea to travel the mountain road toward the left, passing the vineyards along the way to reach the nearby town of Kitzeck and toast the equinox with a glass of wine. Near the roadside bench is a windmill-like klapotetz, traditionally used in this wine-growing region to keep the birds away.”

SDO’s Multiwavelength Sun via APOD | Image Credit: GSFC Scientific Visualization StudioSDONASA

Today, the solstice is at 17:11 Universal Time, the Sun reaching the southernmost declination in its yearly journey through planet Earth’s sky. The December solstice marks the astronomical beginning of winter in the northern hemisphere and summer in the south. To celebrate, explore this creative visualization of the Sun from visible to extreme ultraviolet wavelengths, using image data from the orbiting Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO). Against a base image made at a visible wavelengths, the wedge-shaped segments show the solar disk at increasingly shorter ultraviolet and extreme ultraviolet wavelengths. Shown in false-color and rotating in a clockwise direction, the filters decrease in wavelength from 170 nanometers (in pink) through 9.4 nanometers (green). At shorter wavelengths, the altitude and temperature of the regions revealed in the solar atmosphere tend to increase. Bright at visible wavelengths, the solar photosphere looks darker in the ultraviolet, but sunspots glow and bright plasma traces looping magnetic fields. Watch the filters sweep around the solar disk in this animation of SDO’s multiwavelength view of the Sun.


Sun Primer : Why NASA Scientists Observe the Sun in Different Wavelengths.

[The first image is a collage of solar images from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) that shows how observations of the sun in different wavelengths helps highlight different aspects of the sun’s surface and atmosphere. The second image shows each of the wavelengths observed by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) that was chosen to emphasize a specific aspect of the sun’s surface or atmosphere Credit: NASA/SDO/Goddard Space Flight Center]

Taking a photo of the sun with a standard camera will provide a familiar image: a yellowish, featureless disk, perhaps colored a bit more red when near the horizon since the light must travel through more of Earth’s atmosphere and consequently loses blue wavelengths before getting to the camera’s lens. The sun, in fact, emits light in all colors, but since yellow is the brightest wavelength from the sun, that is the color we see with our naked eye — which the camera represents, since one should never look directly at the sun. When all the visible colors are summed together, scientists call this “white light.”

Specialized instruments, either in ground-based or space-based telescopes, however, can observe light far beyond the ranges visible to the naked eye. Different wavelengths convey information about different components of the sun’s surface and atmosphere, so scientists use them to paint a full picture of our constantly changing and varying star. 

Yellow light of 5800 Angstroms, for example, generally emanates from material of about 10,000 degrees F (5700 degrees C), which represents the surface of the sun. Extreme ultraviolet light of 94 Angstroms, on the other hand, comes from atoms that are about 11 million degrees F (6,300,000 degrees C) and is a good wavelength for looking at solar flares, which can reach such high temperatures. By examining pictures of the sun in a variety of wavelengths – as is done through such telescopes as NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), NASA’s Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory (STEREO) and the ESA/NASA Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) — scientists can track how particles and heat move through the sun’s atmosphere.”

Read more here, and learn more about all the different wavelengths here.


Solar Eruption

[Image Credit: NASA/SDO]

"A solar eruption gracefully rose up from the sun on Dec. 31, 2012, twisting and turning. Magnetic forces drove the flow of plasma, but without sufficient force to overcome the sun’s gravity much of the plasma fell back into the sun.

The length of the eruption extends about 160,000 miles out from the Sun. With Earth about 7,900 miles in diameter, this relatively minor eruption is about 20 times the diameter of our planet.”

[See video and relative size of Earth to eruption on ‘Solar Ballet on the Sun’ feature.]

SDO’s Ultra-high Definition View of 2012 Venus Transit — Path Sequence
NASA image captured June 5-6, 2012.

"On June 5-6 2012, SDO is collecting images of one of the rarest predictable solar events: the transit of Venus across the face of the sun. This event happens in pairs eight years apart that are separated from each other by 105 or 121 years. The last transit was in 2004 and the next will not happen until 2117."

Credit: NASA/SDO, HM


The Sun Like You’ve Never Seen It BeforeBy Francie Diep | POPSCI | Image Credit: SOHO consortium, NASA, European Space Agency

  • Scientists colorized this image to show the intensity of coronal mass ejections.

In this image, the sun reaches out into space with long, super-intense flares of magnetized plasma called coronal mass ejections. When they’re directed toward Earth, such ejections may trigger auroras. Especially powerful ejections interrupt power supply and communications on Earth.

The Solar and Heliospheric Observatory, a joint project between the European Space Agency and NASA, originally took this photo in 2002. Scientists recently colorized it to show the intensities of the ejections. The white regions in the image are the most intense, while the red regions are of medium intensity and the blue regions are the least intense.

The solid blue disc shown around the sun helps block direct sunlight so that details in the corona are more visible. The sun itself is shown in an ultraviolet view that displays which of its regions were active that day.

SOHO continues to take pictures like this today. (Check them out here.) The satellite hangs out at Lagrange point L1, located between the sun and Earth. There, the gravitational forces of the star and planet cancel each other, keeping SOHO in place. It sends data to Earth that help astronomers understand the sun’s weather and predict events that would affect human life.


“NOAA forecasters estimate a 40% chance of more M-flares during the next 24 hours. There’s also a 5% chance of X-flares. CHANCE OF MAGNETIC STORMS: NOAA forecasters have downgraded the chances of a geomagnetic storm on Dec. 29th to 20%. A CME is still expected to arrrive later today, but the longer it takes to get here, the weaker its impact is likely to be.


[Screen shot of my page’s Solar Activity gadget. As you can see we’ve been experiencing a M Class Flare since last night.]

CME TARGETS EARTH: New sunspot 1387 erupted during the late hours of Christmas Day, producing an M4-class flare and hurling a CME toward Earth. The CME is expected to deliver a glancing blow to Earth’s magnetic field on Dec. 28th at 1200 UT and a direct hit to the planet Mars on Dec. 30th at 1800 UT. Using onboard radiation sensors, NASA’s Curiosity rover might be able to sense the CME when it passes the rover’s spacecraft en route to Mars. Here on Earth, NOAA forecasters estimate a 30-to-40% chance of geomagnetic storms on Dec. 28th when the CME and an incoming solar wind stream (unrelated to the CME) could arrive in quick succession. High-latitude sky watchers should be alert for auroras on Wednesday night.”


“Yesterday, sky watchers around the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, witnessed something amazing: A complex network of luminous arcs and rings surrounded the afternoon sun. “I’ve never seen anything quite like it,” says eyewitness Bill Cooke, head of NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office. Solar physicist David Hathaway snapped this picture of the display.

The apparition is almost certainly connected to hurricane Sandy. The core of the storm swept well north of Alabama, but Sandy’s outer bands did pass over the area, leaving behind a thin haze of ice crystals in cirrus clouds. Sunlight shining through the crystals produced an unusually rich variety of ice halos.

'By my count, there are two sun dogs, a 22o halo, a parahelic circle, an upper tangent arc, and a parry arc,’ says Chris Brightwell, who also photographed the display. ‘It was amazing.’ “

[Image credit and copyright: David Hathaway/NASA/MSFC via Spaceweather]
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NASA’s SDO Captures a Monster Prominence [video]

NASA image captured Feb. 24, 2011

"To see an image showing the size of the prominence in comparison to the size of earth click here.

To view a high res still from this event go here:

When a rather large-sized (M 3.6 class) flare occurred near the edge of the Sun, it blew out a gorgeous, waving mass of erupting plasma that swirled and twisted over a 90-minute period (Feb. 24, 2011). This event was captured in extreme ultraviolet light by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory spacecraft . Some of the material blew out into space and other portions fell back to the surface. Because SDO images are super-HD, we can zoom in on the action and still see exquisite details. And using a cadence of a frame taken every 24 seconds, the sense of motion is, by all appearances, seamless. Sit back and enjoy the jaw-dropping solar show.


NASA Goddard Space Flight Center enables NASA’s mission through four scientific endeavors: Earth Science, Heliophysics, Solar System Exploration, and Astrophysics. Goddard plays a leading role in NASA’s accomplishments by contributing compelling scientific knowledge to advance the Agency’s mission.”

This is so magnificent. 


SDO - M9-Class Flare from AR11402 - 2012-01-23 00:00 to 12:00 - AIA 171Å - HD

“The Atmospheric Imaging Assembly (AIA) aboard the Solar Dynamics Observatory is essentially a series of cameras set up to take images of the Sun every few seconds and through a variety of filters. This video is a 12 hour series of data gathered by the AIA 171Å filter. It shows AR11402 from 2012-01-23 00:00 to 12:00 and includes an M9-class flare at about 04:00. Almost 1200 images were used to make the frames for the video, so what you see here is real time sped up by about 1000 times.

The 171Å filter is designed to show coronal loops, those arcs you see extending off of the Sun where plasma is moving along magnetic field lines. Most of what you see here is activity in the corona and upper transition region.” Video source.

[Screen shot from solar activity gadget on my page.]

We’ve been experiencing large geomagnetic storms from Saturday night to today, and increasing Solar flares through out the M Class. 

The light show in the sky [aurora borealis] should be spectacular for a bit where it is visible, usually in the more Northern hemisphere. If you’re lucky enough to catch a glimpse, don’t forget to grab your camera! -TSR