Skip all navigation and jump to content Jump to site navigation Jump to section navigation.
NASA Logo - Goddard Space Flight Center + Visit

+ Advanced Search
View Most Recently Released Imagery
View Gallery of Imagery: A topical collection of SVS Imagery
Search Imagery by the keywords assigned to it
Search Imagery by the instruments that supplied data for a visualization product
Search Imagery by the series of visualizations that have been produced
Search Imagery by the scientist providing the data used in a visualization product
Search Imagery by the animator that created the product
Search Imagery by the identification number assigned to the visualization product
See other search options

  + RSS Feeds
  + Podcasts
blank image
Previous Animation Number   Next Animation Number
SDO Catches Surf Waves on the Sun

Scientists have spotted the iconic surfer's wave rolling through the atmosphere of the sun. This makes for more than just a nice photo-op: the waves hold clues as to how energy moves through that atmosphere, known as the corona.

Since scientists know how these kinds of waves -- initiated by a Kelvin-Helmholtz instability if you're being technical -- disperse energy in the water, they can use this information to better understand the corona. This in turn, may help solve an enduring mystery of why the corona is thousands of times hotter than originally expected.

Kelvin-Helmholtz instabilities occur when two fluids of different densities or different speeds flow by each other. In the case of ocean waves, that's the dense water and the lighter air. As they flow past each other, slight ripples can be quickly amplified into the giant waves loved by surfers. In the case of the solar atmosphere, which is made of a very hot and electrically charged gas called plasma, the two flows come from an expanse of plasma erupting off the sun's surface as it passes by plasma that is not erupting. The difference in flow speeds and densities across this boundary sparks the instability that builds into the waves.

In order to confirm this description, the team developed a computer model to see what takes place in the region. Their model showed that these conditions could indeed lead to giant surfing waves rolling through the corona. Seeing the big waves suggests they can cascade down to smaller forms of turbulence too. Scientists believe that the friction created by turbulence -- the simple rolling of material over and around itself -- could help add heating energy to the corona. The analogy is the way froth at the top of a surfing wave provides friction that will heat up the wave.

Share: Share via E-mail E-mail   Share on TwitterTwitter
More information on this topic available at:

Short narrated video about Kelvin-Helmholtz waves on the sun.    Short narrated video about Kelvin-Helmholtz waves on the sun.

For complete transcript, click here.
Duration: 3.4 minutes
Available formats:
  1280x720 (59.94 fps) QT         3 GB
  1280x720 (59.94 fps) QT         1 GB
  1280x720 (29.97 fps) QT         348 MB
  960x720 (29.97 fps) MPEG-4   124 MB
  1280x720 (29.97 fps) WMV         107 MB
  1280x720 (30 fps) QT         94 MB
  1280x720 (29.97 fps) MPEG-4   82 MB
  1280x720 (59.94 fps) QT         46 MB
  640x360 (29.97 fps) MPEG-4   39 MB
  640x360 (29.97 fps) MPEG-4   33 MB
  320x240 (29.97 fps) MPEG-4   20 MB
  320x180 (29.97 fps) MPEG-4   14 MB
  1280x720   PNG           1 MB
  960x540 (29.97 fps) WEBM         50 MB
  320x180     PNG           275 KB
How to play our movies

The CME that created the waves.    The CME that created the waves.

Available formats:
  1280 x 720       PNG     863 KB

Short URL to This Page:
Animation Number:10745
Video Editor:Scott Wiessinger (UMBC)
Interviewee:Leon Ofman (NASA/GSFC)
Narrator:Chris Smith (HTSI)
Producer:Scott Wiessinger (UMBC)
Scientist:Leon Ofman (NASA/GSFC)
Videographers:Chris Smith (HTSI)
 Scott Wiessinger (UMBC)
 Michelle Williams (UMBC)
 Jennifer A. Shoemaker (UMBC)
Writers:Karen Fox (ASI)
 Scott Wiessinger (UMBC)
Platforms/Sensors/Data Sets:SDO/AIA/193 Filter
 SDO/AIA/211 Filter
 SDO/AIA/171 Filter
Series:Narrated Movies
 SDO - Edited Features
 SDO - Interviews
 Goddard Shorts
Goddard TV Tape:G2011-022 -- SDO Turbulence on the Sun
Please give credit for this item to:
NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center
SVS >> First Light
SVS >> Magnetic Fields
SVS >> Plasma
SVS >> Spacecraft
SVS >> Sun
SVS >> Waves
GCMD >> Earth Science >> Sun-earth Interactions
GCMD >> Earth Science >> Sun-earth Interactions >> Solar Activity
SVS >> Edited Feature
SVS >> Solar Dynamics Observatory
SVS >> Space
SVS >> Interview
SVS >> Heliophysics
NASA Science >> Sun

Back to Top
Many of our multimedia items use the GCMD keywords. These keywords can be found on the Internet with the following citation:
Olsen, L.M., G. Major, K. Shein, J. Scialdone, S. Ritz, T. Stevens, M. Morahan, A. Aleman, R. Vogel, S. Leicester, H. Weir, M. Meaux, S. Grebas, C.Solomon, M. Holland, T. Northcutt, R. A. Restrepo, R. Bilodeau, 2013. NASA/Global Change Master Directory (GCMD) Earth Science Keywords. Version logo - the U.S. Government's official Web portal. + Privacy Policy and Important Notices
+ Reproduction Guidelines
NASA NASA Official:
Content Contact: