New Space Observatory Beams Back Spectacular Images of the Sun

SOHO image of the Sun

Raise your hand if you don’t believe in nuclear fusion. If your hand is in the air, just take a look at the photo to the left.

That’s the largest nuclear reactor within 24,690,226,567,371 miles — and it works by fusion. Nuclear power plants on Earth depend on fission — a process in which energy is released when the nucleus of an atom is split. The sun releases energy when atoms of hydrogen gas are fused by the enormous gravitational pressure at the solar core.

Since The Phoenix Sun is devoted primarily to developments in solar power, it seemed appropriate to have a picture of the sun on the front page (appropriate and, not incidentally, so very geeky-cool). Thanks to the Solar & Heliospheric Observatory satellite feed, we’ve been able to maintain an image of the sun that self-updates daily since 2009.

The SOHO satellite had been beaming back solar image of the sun for fifteen years. As anyone with a HD TV knows, imaging technology has changed a lot over those years. So, on February 12, NASA launched a new and improved solar observatory: the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), which, in April, started beaming back sharper images with far higher resolution and sent more frequently.

As much as we liked the SOHO images, we’ve made the switch. Earlier this week, our highly adept technical team (cough, cough) switched the widget feed over to the SDO channel. That’s it, now playing in the Current Image of the Sun theatre.

The thing is, at this size and resolution, it’s really hard to see any difference between the SDO and the SOHO images. Thankfully, with SDO, we have options that allow some pretty awesome close-ups. To put things in perspective, below is yesterday’s SDO image. That small green box is the area we’re going to zoom in on.

The Sun, SDO image w/green zoom box

The Sun, Closer-Up

The Sun, SDO #2

The Sun, Full Close-Up

SDO, Full Close-Up

What looked like simple bright spots in the original view, now show themselves as immense solar flares. The Earth could just squeeze through the loop of hot plasma near the bottom.

Pretty cool, eh?

To get the highest resolution possible, go to the Current Image widget in the top, right-hand corner of this page. Click on the words LARGE IMAGE. Place the magnifying glass/cursor on the spot you’d like to see better and double-click. Whoa, that fills the screen! You can zoom in further by pressing the Ctrl button and the + key (Windows) at the same time, repeatedly. The picture above, bounded completely by the green box, is as far as my monitor allows. As they say on the commercials: Individual results may vary.

The image is updated daily. You can read far more about the amazing SDO on their website and watch HD videos of the Sun.

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