The sun is kind of a big deal. It accounts for 99.8 percent of all mass in our solar system, helping it hold the neighborhood together, and it provides the energy needed for life on Earth. Most people know that, yet we still tend to take our home star for granted. Even when we marvel at a sunrise or sunset, the sun we see from Earth is just a glimmer of the full, fiery glory roaring 93 million miles overhead.
That's a good thing, since the sun's life-giving light can also scorch our retinas and skin. Earth's atmosphere offers some protection, especially in early morning and late evening, but it's still not wise to look directly at the sun. And while the view is clearer from space, the lack of an atmosphere also makes that vantage point more dangerous — unless you're wearing the right shades.
Astronauts wear gold-tinted visors to filter out the sun's harmful rays, but even they can't rival the view from NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO). Launched in 2010, the SDO takes a photo of the sun every 12 seconds in 10 different wavelengths of light. While we struggle just to peek at our star, this unmanned spacecraft has been staring sunward almost nonstop for the past five years.
The raw photos from SDO are amazing on their own, but artist Michael König has stitched them into a masterpiece portrayal of solar power. Using ultraviolet SDO imagery from 2011 to 2015, König created the epic time-lapse video above, which is probably one of the best glimpses of the sun you'll ever see.
The video features several mesmerizing shots of solar filaments and prominences, which are large regions of dense, relatively cool gas held in place by the sun's magnetic fields. They leap off the solar surface in spectacular loops — some of the best examples can be seen at 1:05, 1:28 and 2:29.
One of the video's most impressive scenes occurs from 2:57 to 3:10, when a ferocious solar eruption sends a plasma plume blasting into space. Another must-see moment is the "coronal rain" from 1:58 to 2:10, capturing a July 2012 event when plasma from a coronal mass ejection cooled and fell back to the sun, channeling along magnetic loops near the solar surface. Other highlights include a transit by Earth's moon at 1:18, a "Trebuchet" eruption at 2:17 and a transit by Venus at 2:41.
The whole video is definitely worth watching, though. You'll never look at the sun the same way again.
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