All photos: Solar Dynamics Observatory/NASA
Over the weekend, NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) hit a major milestone. Just under five years after its launch, on Jan. 19, SDO captured its 100 millionth image of the sun. That's eight whole zeros, folks.
Using the Atmospheric Imaging Assembly (AIA), an instrument which, as NASA explains, "uses four telescopes working parallel to gather eight images of the sun – cycling through 10 different wavelengths – every 12 seconds," as well as two other instruments on board, SDO delivers an incredible 1.5 terabytes of data each and every day. That's 57,600 detailed images of the sun every 24 hours.
To celebrate the achievement, we thought, we'd share eight of our favorite images of the sun from SDO since it went live. Prepare to be dazzled.
A long filament eruption
On Aug. 31, 2012, SDO captured this beauty. The image shows a long filament of solar material that had been in the sun's atmosphere as it erupted into space. This shot by itself is stunning, but it also had real world effects down here on Earth. The coronal mass ejection traveled at more than 900 miles per second and caused auroras to appear on Earth just days later.
Partial lunar eclipse
Most of the time, SDO's view of the sun is unobstructed. However, a few times a year, the moon creeps into the frame of the image like a lunar photobomb. In this picture taken on Nov. 22, 2014, we see that the moon's disk is partially blocking the solar corona. If you check out the edge of the moon, you'll notice that it's not a perfect circle, and thanks to the high-res image, we can actually see mountains along the edge.
In October of 2014, SDO captured expanding coronal loops that can be seen along the edge of the sun. As NASA explains, "The bright loops began to form and grow after a long-lasting M-class flare erupted. The arcs of the loops we see in extreme ultraviolet light are actually particles spiraling along magnetic field lines arcing above the active region that was the source of the flare. They are reorganizing the magnetic field after its disruption." To make it all the more impressive, these loops extend out over 15 times the size of Earth.
On June 7, 2011, SDO snapped this image of a massive eruption as it lifted cool and dark material into the corona. The majority of that material came back down into the sun where the gravitational energy caused it to heat up to over a million degrees. The NASA scientists determined that this event, captured for all of us to see, is a miniature example of what happens as stars form and collect gases with a little help from gravity. As this kind of event rarely ever happens so close to home, it allowed scientists to study the phenomenon up close.
The old man in the sun
People usually talk about the man in the moon, but here we see that our celestial friend actually lives in the sun. The image is a great tool to show people the different parts of the sun. The dark area that looks like a mouth shows cooler material, the eyes are made up of hot material, and the hair shows the matter that floats in the sun’s atmosphere.
The path of Venus
Back in June of 2012 Venus was making her way across the sun, dazzling stargazers who were able to catch a glimpse. SDO took advantage of the opportunity and captured the event in detail, resulting in the best images of a transit ever taken.
Composite of 25 images of the sun
This incredible image isn't just a single picture. It's 25 separate images of the sun taken between April 16, 2012 and April 15, 2013. SDO’s Atmospheric Imaging Assembly took a picture of the sun every 12 seconds in 10 different wavelengths. Even better? They created a video to show you the journey the sun took over the course of three years. NASA notes that, because the SDO spacecraft moves closer and farther away from the sun, the sun appears bigger and smaller in size while watching the video. The images show solar flares, coronal mass ejections, and even space weather that sends solar material toward Earth, sometimes interfering with satellites in space.
The 100,000,000th image
And last but certainly not least, we have for you the 100 millionth image taken by the Solar Dynamics Observatory. In it you will see the dark areas at the bottom which are coronal holes. A coronal hole is a low density region on the sun's outer atmosphere.
We take our hats off to the scientists at NASA who continue to help us understand the universe, even from millions of miles away. We're sure the next 100 million photos will be just as illuminating, helping us get to know our very own star.
Related on MNN:
- 10 images from NASA's Spitzer telescope
- 10 dazzling images from the WISE telescope
- 17 images captured by the Hubble Space Telescope