Images from space reveal the chaotic motions on the surface of the sun.
Material inside the sun is constantly on the move. This movement can produce pressure waves that travel through the sun and cause its surface to vibrate. Solar physicists have given a name to the study of these motions that were first observed in the 1970s—helioseismology. Just as seismic waves can be used to visualize Earth’s interior, scientists can use pressure waves to infer information about the sun’s inner structure. Since 2010, the Helioseismic and Magnetic Imager (HMI) instrument aboard NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) spacecraft has observed oscillating solar material on the sun's surface layer, the photosphere. Thanks to the instrument, scientists have been able to hone their models of how material circulates within the sun, helping them explore how regions of active magnetism ramp up and erupt as solar flares and coronal mass ejections. Watch the video to see a time-lapse of SDO images that shows shifting material on the sun’s surface.