Category Archives: sun

Four Years of SDO

It’s hard to believe it’s already been four years that NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory has kept a watchful eye on our home star, but here we are: 2014, and the four-year anniversary of the Feb. 11 launch has come and gone. Amazing. But what’s even more amazing are all the incredible observations and discoveries SDO has made of the Sun in that relatively short time!

Check out the video above, a compilation from the talented people over at Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, showing some of the best solar sights from SDO over the past four years.

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The Brightest Lights: 12 Awesome Space Stories of 2013

1400-image mosaic of Earthlings waving at Saturn on July 19, 2013 (NASA/JPL)

1400-image mosaic of Earthlings waving at Saturn on July 19, 2013 (NASA/JPL)

What a year for space exploration! With 2013 coming to a close I thought I would look back on some of the biggest news in space that I’ve featured here on Lights in the Dark. Rather than a “top ten” list, as is common with these year-end reviews, I’m going to do more of a month-by-month (hence the 12) to help recollect some of the amazing stories and sights that 2013 has brought us. And with some of the big headliners we’ve seen this year it’s easy to lose sight of the smaller (but no less fascinating) discoveries — so I’ll be sure to include some of those too. After all, when it comes to learning about the Universe there’s no “little” news!

Ready? Let’s go!

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Watch the Sun’s Skin Split Open (and Then Heal Itself)

Like some kind of stellar superhero (or maybe a cosmic vampire!) our Sun’s surface splits apart and then fuses itself back together in this mesmerizing video from SDO and the folks at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center — check it out!

All right now, while the Sun doesn’t really have skin like we do or a hard surface like the Earth, it does have multiple layers of varying density and temperature, all wrapped and bound and pierced by intense magnetic fields (hm… sounds a little kinky!) This is what we’re seeing here — magnetic fields filled with super-hot solar plasma playing across the Sun. NASA even titled this video “Canyon of Fire” although that’s taking poetic license too… there’s no fire on the Sun.

Still, the event, which occurred on Sept. 29-30, is amazing to watch through SDO’s UV-sensitive eyes! Our home star is quite a dynamic thing (luckily for us and all life on Earth.)

Read more about what’s happening here.

Video credit: NASA/SDO/GSFC

Alan Friedman on Photographing the Sun

Alan Friedman, Solar Photographer. (Click to play)

Alan Friedman, Solar Photographer. (Click to play)

I’ve featured many of Alan Friedman’s amazing photos of the Sun here on Lights in the Dark, starting from the very first one I came across via the venerable Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD) in November 2009. I’ve even featured Alan’s work in several articles I’ve written for National Geographic NewsDiscovery News, and Universe Today. Alan runs an independent greeting card print shop in Buffalo, NY, and in his spare time likes to collect vintage hats, travel, do some astrophotography, and oh yeah, also take the most un-freakin’-believable photos of our home star in hydrogen alpha light from his own backyard.

(I hope you didn’t miss that part about the Sun.)

Photo of the Sun by Alan Friedman

Photo of the Sun by Alan Friedman (All rights reserved. Used with permission.)

Every year the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, England holds a contest for best astrophotography, and this year they visited three of the entrants to get the stories behind their photos. While it looks like Alan didn’t win a grand prize this year (but he did take second) the video above shows how — and why — he makes his photos.

“The coolest thing about the Sun for me as the subject for photography is it’s never the same two days in a row. And it’s the only star we can see detail on, at least with current technology.”

– Alan Friedman

It’s quite a beautiful video, and makes you feel like you’re a guest at Alan’s home looking up through his telescope along with him and his family.

You can find some images of Alan’s I’ve shared on Lights In The Dark here, and see more of Alan’s work on his Averted Imagination blog here.

Currently Alan’s sun photography is on display at the Orange County Great Park Gallery in Irvine, CA Thursdays through Sundays from Sept. 15 to Dec. 1. If you’re in the area, don’t miss the chance to check it out. Admission is free.

Video credit: Royal Observatory Greenwich/ Lonelyleap

This Video of a Sunspot in Motion Will Blow Your Mind

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.

Really, go check it out.

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

Our Sun is Awesome

It really is. I mean, nevermind that it comprises over 99% of all the mass in our solar system, that it supplies our planet with the energy needed to sustain life on its surface, that its constantly-blowing solar wind helps keep some of those nasty cosmic particles out of the planetary neighborhood, and that it makes a bright sunshiny day even possible (but remember to wear sunscreen!)… in addition to all that, it’s also just really, really cool.

Watch the video above and you’ll see what I mean.

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A Backyard View of a Solar Prominence

Hydrogen-alpha photo of the Sun by Alan Friedman

An enormous tree-shaped prominence spreads its “branches” tens of thousands of miles above the Sun’s photosphere in this image, a section of a photo acquired in hydrogen alpha (Ha) by Alan Friedman last week from his backyard in Buffalo, NY. Writes Alan on his blog, “gotta love a sunny day in November!”

Check out the full image — along with an idea of just how big this “tree” actually is — here.

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