Our Star: The Sun
Like many others who lived through the Carl Sagin Cosmos Era, I’m mesmerized by images of distant galaxies, nebulae, and supernovae. With billion and billions of cosmic objects to explore, it’s easy to overlook the cosmic grandeur in our own neighborhood, the Sun. (The term “neighborhood” is used in its astronomical sense, given that the Sun is nearly 93 million miles from Earth.)
Yet, Sunscapes are beautiful and richly diverse, largely because the gases that make up the Sun have been superheated to the point that they are sensitive to magnetism. The patterns we see on the surface — and deep into the interior — are those unseen magnetic fields made visible by the hot gases. It’s a bit like “seeing” the wind by watching the patterns of movement in a wheat field as wind blows across the land.
The Sunscape above was captured by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), a satellite launched in 2010 for a five-year mission studying the Sun. The SDO uses imaging devices so sensitive that the resulting data stream provides as much detail as a high-def screen. (You can read more about the SDO, here.)
The images provide scientists an unprecedented amount of data to help understand solar activity. These images also allow us to see the powerful beauty present in the Sun in ways we’ve never been able to — before the SDO.
The detailed image above was taken from the SDO daily photograph found in our widget at the top, right-hand corner of the page. To explore the full image, simply right-click on the widget photo, and choose “View image” from the drop-down menu.
Here’s a fascinating (and beautiful) video from NASA showing how the SDO works: