Unless you’ve been living in the Oort Cloud you’ve probably heard about the current travels of comet C/2012 S1 (aka ISON) through the inner solar system. Although this soon-to-be “sungrazing” comet was first spotted by astronomers Vitali Nevski (from Belarus) and Artyom Novichonok (Russia) on Sept. 21, 2012, it’s actually been on its way toward the Sun for much, much longer — possibly for the past several million years or so. But on November 28 at 1:38 p.m. EST, as many Americans are sitting down for their Thanksgiving Day dinners here in the U.S., ISON will make its closest pass around the Sun (called perihelion) and, while you won’t be able to see it in the sky at that point (it’s much too close to the Sun right now) our many eyes in the sky will be watching.
There’s been a lot of misinformation passed around the ‘net recently regarding ISON (as seems to be de rigueur whenever something astronomical is occurring) and I can’t stress enough that there’s no reason to be concerned about this comet’s visit. If anything, ISON should be the one worried — there’s still a chance that it won’t survive perihelion intact! In fact, some reports are suggesting that it already has broken up (which as yet has not been confirmed). So to answer some of the most common questions people have been asking about ISON, NASA has shared some video interviews with experts on the subject. Watch them below:
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
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 News, Discovery 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.)
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.
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
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
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.
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.
Totality — that brief period during a solar eclipse when the Moon is completely centered in front of the Sun’s disk — is a truly amazing sight, so much so that many people who have seen it once (a privileged group that doesn’t include me, sadly!) will travel across the globe in an effort witness it again and again.
During solar eclipse totality the sky not only becomes dark, dropping the temperature and sometimes even allowing stars to be seen, but also the Sun’s outer atmosphere is revealed around the silhouette of the Moon for a few short moments. Unfortunately this is not easily captured on camera because of the rapidly changing lighting situations, and when it is it pales in comparison to the real thing (or so I hear.)
The video above, taken during the November 14 eclipse from Queensland, shows the moments of totality pretty nicely although the streamer effect can’t really be made out. Still, we get a good idea of how the light changes and we can see another effect called “Baily’s Beads”, where sunlight peeks through some of the relief of the Moon’s terrain along its outer limb. Also the “diamond ring” effect can be seen as the Sun is uncovered.
Enjoy, and thanks to YouTube user solareclipse eclipsevidgvale for the upload!