SDO

The Solar Dynamics Observatory

The Solar Dynamics Observatory, or SDO, is a geosynchronous-orbiting satellite designed to help us understand the Sun’s influence on Earth by studying the solar atmosphere. SDO’s goal is to understand, driving towards a predictive capability, the dynamic solar activity that drives conditions in near-Earth space, called space weather. SDO observations help us explain where the Sun's energy comes from, how the inside of the Sun works, and how the Sun’s atmosphere stores and releases energy in dramatic eruptions.

Every twelve seconds, SDO images the Sun in ten wavelengths of ultraviolet light. Each wavelength reveals different solar features and is assigned a unique color. Every image is eight times the resolution of HD video. From dark coronal holes or bright active regions on the solar surface to immense eruptions and flares that lash out millions of miles above the surface, SDO looks far into the Sun’s blazing atmosphere.

Content Contact:

Best Of

  • SDO: Year 5
    2015.02.11
    February 11, 2015 marks five years in space for NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory, which provides incredibly detailed images of the whole sun 24 hours a day. Capturing an image more than once per second, SDO has provided an unprecedentedly clear picture of how massive explosions on the sun grow and erupt ever since its launch on Feb. 11, 2010. The imagery is also captivating, allowing one to watch the constant ballet of solar material through the sun's atmosphere, the corona. In honor of SDO's fifth anniversary, NASA has released a video showcasing highlights from the last five years of sun watching. Watch the movie to see giant clouds of solar material hurled out into space, the dance of giant loops hovering in the corona, and huge sunspots growing and shrinking on the sun's surface. The imagery is an example of the kind of data that SDO provides to scientists. By watching the sun in different wavelengths – and therefore different temperatures – scientists can watch how material courses through the corona, which holds clues to what causes eruptions on the sun, what heats the sun's atmosphere up to 1,000 times hotter than its surface, and why the sun's magnetic fields are constantly on the move. Five years into its mission, SDO continues to send back tantalizing imagery to incite scientists' curiosity. For example, in late 2014, SDO captured imagery of the largest sun spots seen since 1995 as well as a torrent of intense solar flares. Solar flares are bursts of light, energy and X-rays. They can occur by themselves or can be accompanied by what's called a coronal mass ejection, or CME, in which a giant cloud of solar material erupts off the sun, achieves escape velocity and heads off into space. In this case, the sun produced only flares and no CMEs, which, while not unheard of, is somewhat unusual for flares of that size. Scientists are looking at that data now to see if they can determine what circumstances might have led to flares eruptions alone. Goddard built, operates and manages the SDO spacecraft for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington, D.C. SDO is the first mission of NASA's Living with a Star Program. The program's goal is to develop the scientific understanding necessary to address those aspects of the sun-Earth system that directly affect our lives and society.
  • SDO: Year 4
    2014.02.11
    The sun is always changing and NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory is always watching. Launched on Feb. 11, 2010, SDO keeps a 24-hour eye on the entire disk of the sun, with a prime view of the graceful dance of solar material coursing through the sun's atmosphere, the corona. SDO's fourth year in orbit was no exception: NASA is releasing a movie of some of SDO's best sightings of the year, including massive solar explosions and giant sunspot shows.

    SDO captures images of the sun in 10 different wavelengths, each of which helps highlight a different temperature of solar material. Different temperatures can, in turn, show specific structures on the sun such as solar flares, which are giant explosions of light and x-rays, or coronal loops, which are streams of solar material traveling up and down looping magnetic field lines. The movie shows examples of both, as well as what's called prominence eruptions, when masses of solar material leap off the sun. The movie also shows a sunspot group on the solar surface. This sunspot, a magnetically strong and complex region appearing in mid-January 2014, was one of the largest in nine years.

    Scientists study these images to better understand the complex electromagnetic system causing the constant movement on the sun, which can ultimately have an effect closer to Earth, too: Flares and another type of solar explosion called coronal mass ejections can sometimes disrupt technology in space. Moreover, studying our closest star is one way of learning about other stars in the galaxy. NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. built, operates, and manages the SDO spacecraft for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington, D.C.

    SDO: Year One here.

    SDO: Year 2 here.

    SDO: Year 3 here.

    Information about the individual clips used in this video is here.

  • SDO: Year 3
    2013.02.11
    On Feb. 11, 2010, NASA launched an unprecedented solar observatory into space. The Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) flew up on an Atlas V rocket, carrying instruments that scientists hoped would revolutionize observations of the sun. If all went according to plan, SDO would provide incredibly high-resolution data of the entire solar disk almost as quickly as once a second.

    When the science team released its first images in April of 2010, SDO's data exceeded everyone's hopes and expectations, providing stunningly detailed views of the sun. In the three years since then, SDO's images have continued to show breathtaking pictures and movies of eruptive events on the sun. Such imagery is more than just pretty, they are the very data that scientists study. By highlighting different wavelengths of light, scientists can track how material on the sun moves. Such movement, in turn, holds clues as to what causes these giant explosions, which, when Earth-directed, can disrupt technology in space.

    SDO is the first mission in a NASA's Living With a Star program, the goal of which is to develop the scientific understanding necessary to address those aspects of the sun-Earth system that directly affect our lives and society. NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. built, operates, and manages the SDO spacecraft for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington, D.C

  • SDO: Year 2
    2012.04.20
    April 21, 2012 marks the two-year anniversary of the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) First Light press conference, where NASA revealed the first images taken by the spacecraft. This video highlights just some of the amazing events witnessed in SDO's second year.
  • SDO: Year One
    2011.04.21
    April 21, 2011 marks the one-year anniversary of the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) First Light press conference, where NASA revealed the first images taken by the spacecraft.

    In the last year, the sun has gone from its quietest period in years to the activity marking the beginning of solar cycle 24. SDO has captured every moment with a level of detail never-before possible. The mission has returned unprecedented images of solar flares, eruptions of prominences, and the early stages of coronal mass ejections (CMEs). In this video are some of the most beautiful, interesting, and mesmerizing events seen by SDO during its first year.

    In the order they appear in the video the events are:

    1. Prominence Eruption from AIA in 304 Ångstroms on March 30, 2010

    2. Cusp Flow from AIA in 171 Ångstroms on February 14, 2011

    3. Prominence Eruption from AIA in 304 Ångstroms on February 25, 2011

    4. Cusp Flow from AIA in 304 Ångstroms on February 14, 2011

    5. Merging Sunspots from HMI in Continuum on October 24-28, 2010

    6. Prominence Eruption and active region from AIA in 304 Ångstroms on April 30, 2010

    7. Solar activity and plasma loops from AIA in 171 Ångstroms on March 4-8, 2011

    8. Flowing plasma from AIA in 304 Ångstroms on April 19, 2010

    9. Active regions from HMI in Magnetogram on March 10, 2011

    10. Filament eruption from AIA in 304 Ångstroms on December 6, 2010

    11. CME start from AIA in 211 Ångstroms on March 8, 2011

    12. X2 flare from AIA in 304 Ångstroms on February 15, 2011

  • SDO: Year 6
    2016.02.12
    The sun is always changing and NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory is always watching. Launched on Feb. 11, 2010, SDO keeps a 24-hour eye on the entire disk of the sun, with a prime view of the graceful dance of solar material coursing through the sun's atmosphere, the corona. SDO's sixth year in orbit was no exception. This video shows that entire sixth year--from Jan. 1, 2015 to Jan. 28, 2016 as one time-lapse sequence. At full quality, this video is ultra-high definition 3840x2160 and 59.94 frames per second. Each frame represents 1 hour. SDO's Atmospheric Imaging Assembly (AIA) captures a shot of the sun every 12 seconds in 10 different wavelengths. The images shown here are based on a wavelength of 171 angstroms, which is in the extreme ultraviolet range and shows solar material at around 600,000 Kelvin (about 1 million degrees F.) In this wavelength it is easy to see the sun's 25-day rotation. During the course of the video, the sun subtly increases and decreases in apparent size. This is because the distance between the SDO spacecraft and the sun varies over time. The image is, however, remarkably consistent and stable despite the fact that SDO orbits Earth at 6,876 mph and the Earth orbits the sun at 67,062 miles per hour. Scientists study these images to better understand the complex electromagnetic system causing the constant movement on the sun, which can ultimately have an effect closer to Earth, too: Flares and another type of solar explosion called coronal mass ejections can sometimes disrupt technology in space. Moreover, studying our closest star is one way of learning about other stars in the galaxy. NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. built, operates, and manages the SDO spacecraft for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington, D.C.
  • SDO: Year 7
    2017.02.11
    Our sun is ever-changing, and the Solar Dynamics Observatory has a front-row seat. On Feb. 11, 2010, NASA launched the Solar Dynamics Observatory, also known as SDO. SDO keeps a constant eye on the sun, helping us track everything from sunspots to solar flares to other types of space weather that can have an impact on Earth. For instance, solar activity is behind the aurora, one of Earth’s most dazzling natural events. The sun’s activity rises and falls in a pattern that lasts about 11 years on average. This is called the solar cycle. After seven years in space, SDO has had a chance to do what few other satellites have been able to do – watch the sun for the majority of a solar cycle in 11 types of light. This video shows two.
  • Jewel Box Sun
    2013.12.17
    Telescopes help distant objects appear bigger, but this is only one of their advantages. Telescopes can also collect light in ranges that our eyes alone cannot see, providing scientists ways of observing a whole host of material and processes that would otherwise be inaccessible.

    A new NASA movie of the sun based on data from NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory, or SDO, shows the wide range of wavelengths – invisible to the naked eye – that the telescope can view. SDO converts the wavelengths into an image humans can see, and the light is colorized into a rainbow of colors.

    As the colors sweep around the sun in the movie, viewers should note how different the same area of the sun appears. This happens because each wavelength of light represents solar material at specific temperatures. Different wavelengths convey information about different components of the sun's surface and atmosphere, so scientists use them to paint a full picture of our constantly changing and varying star.

    Yellow light of 5800 angstroms, for example, generally emanates from material of about 10,000 degrees F (5700 degrees C), which represents the surface of the sun. Extreme ultraviolet light of 94 angstroms, which is typically colorized in green in SDO images, comes from atoms that are about 11 million degrees F (6,300,000 degrees C) and is a good wavelength for looking at solar flares, which can reach such high temperatures. By examining pictures of the sun in a variety of wavelengths – as is done not only by SDO, but also by NASA's Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph, NASA's Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory and the European Space Agency/NASA Solar and Heliospheric Observatory — scientists can track how particles and heat move through the sun's atmosphere.

  • Three Years of SDO Images
    2013.04.22
    In the three years since it first provided images of the sun in the spring of 2010, NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) has had virtually unbroken coverage of the sun's rise toward solar maximum, the peak of solar activity in its regular 11-year cycle. This video shows those three years of the sun at a pace of two images per day. Each image is displayed for two frames at a 29.97 frame rate.

    SDO's Atmospheric Imaging Assembly (AIA) captures a shot of the sun every 12 seconds in 10 different wavelengths. The images shown here are based on a wavelength of 171 angstroms, which is in the extreme ultraviolet range and shows solar material at around 600,000 Kelvin. In this wavelength it is easy to see the sun's 25-day rotation as well as how solar activity has increased over three years.

    During the course of the video, the sun subtly increases and decreases in apparent size. This is because the distance between the SDO spacecraft and the sun varies over time. The image is, however, remarkably consistent and stable despite the fact that SDO orbits the Earth at 6,876 miles per hour and the Earth orbits the sun at 67,062 miles per hour.

    Such stability is crucial for scientists, who use SDO to learn more about our closest star. These images have regularly caught solar flares and coronal mass ejections in the act, types of space weather that can send radiation and solar material toward Earth and interfere with satellites in space. SDO's glimpses into the violent dance on the sun help scientists understand what causes these giant explosions — with the hopes of some day improving our ability to predict this space weather.

    The four wavelength view at the end of the video shows light at 4500 angstroms, which is basically the visible light view of the sun, and reveals sunspots; light at 193 angstroms which highlights material at 1 million Kelvin and reveals more of the sun's corona; light at 304 angstroms which highlights material at around 50,000 Kelvin and shows features in the transition region and chromosphere of the sun; and light at 171 angstroms.

  • August 31, 2012 Magnificent CME
    2012.09.04
    On August 31, 2012 a long filament of solar material that had been hovering in the sun's atmosphere, the corona, erupted out into space at 4:36 p.m. EDT. The coronal mass ejection, or CME, traveled at over 900 miles per second. The CME did not travel directly toward Earth, but did connect with Earth's magnetic environment, or magnetosphere, with a glancing blow. causing aurora to appear on the night of Monday, September 3.
  • Gradient Sun
    2012.10.18
    Watching a particularly beautiful movie of the sun helps show how the lines between science and art can sometimes blur. But there is more to the connection between the two disciplines: science and art techniques are often quite similar, indeed one may inform the other or be improved based on lessons from the other arena. One such case is a technique known as a "gradient filter" — recognizable to many people as an option available on a photo-editing program. Gradients are, in fact, a mathematical description that highlights the places of greatest physical change in space. A gradient filter, in turn, enhances places of contrast, making them all the more obviously different, a useful tool when adjusting photos. Scientists, too, use gradient filters to enhance contrast, using them to accentuate fine structures that might otherwise be lost in the background noise. On the sun, for example, scientists wish to study a phenomenon known as coronal loops, which are giant arcs of solar material constrained to travel along that particular path by the magnetic fields in the sun's atmosphere. Observations of the loops, which can be more or less tangled and complex during different phases of the sun's 11-year activity cycle, can help researchers understand what's happening with the sun's complex magnetic fields, fields that can also power great eruptions on the sun such as solar flares or coronal mass ejections.

    The images here show an unfiltered image from the sun next to one that has been processed using a gradient filter. Note how the coronal loops are sharp and defined, making them all the more easy to study. On the other hand, gradients also make great art. Watch the movie to see how the sharp loops on the sun next to the more fuzzy areas in the lower solar atmosphere provide a dazzling show.

  • SDO Sees Fiery Looping Rain on the Sun
    2013.02.20
    Eruptive events on the sun can be wildly different. Some come just with a solar flare, some with an additional ejection of solar material called a coronal mass ejection (CME), and some with complex moving structures in association with changes in magnetic field lines that loop up into the sun's atmosphere, the corona.

    On July 19, 2012, an eruption occurred on the sun that produced all three. A moderately powerful solar flare exploded on the sun's lower right hand limb, sending out light and radiation. Next came a CME, which shot off to the right out into space. And then, the sun treated viewers to one of its dazzling magnetic displays — a phenomenon known as coronal rain.

    Over the course of the next day, hot plasma in the corona cooled and condensed along strong magnetic fields in the region. Magnetic fields, themselves, are invisible, but the charged plasma is forced to move along the lines, showing up brightly in the extreme ultraviolet wavelength of 304 angstroms, which highlights material at a temperature of about 50,000 Kelvin. This plasma acts as a tracer, helping scientists watch the dance of magnetic fields on the sun, outlining the fields as it slowly falls back to the solar surface.

    The footage in this video was collected by the Solar Dynamics Observatory's AIA instrument. SDO collected one frame every 12 seconds, and the movie plays at 30 frames per second, so each second in this video corresponds to 6 minutes of real time. The video covers 12:30 a.m. EDT to 10:00 p.m. EDT on July 19, 2012.

  • Filament Eruption Creates 'Canyon of Fire' on the Sun
    2013.10.24
    A magnetic filament of solar material erupted on the sun in late September, breaking the quiet conditions in a spectacular fashion. The 200,000 mile long filament ripped through the sun's atmosphere, the corona, leaving behind what looks like a canyon of fire. The glowing canyon traces the channel where magnetic fields held the filament aloft before the explosion. Visualizers at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. combined two days of satellite data to create a short movie of this gigantic event on the sun.

    In reality, the sun is not made of fire, but of something called plasma: particles so hot that their electrons have boiled off, creating a charged gas that is interwoven with magnetic fields.

    These images were captured on Sept. 29-30, 2013, by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory, or SDO, which constantly observes the sun in a variety of wavelengths.

    Different wavelengths help capture different aspect of events in the corona. The red images shown in the movie help highlight plasma at temperatures of 90,000° F and are good for observing filaments as they form and erupt. The yellow images, showing temperatures at 1,000,000° F, are useful for observing material coursing along the sun's magnetic field lines, seen in the movie as an arcade of loops across the area of the eruption. The browner images at the beginning of the movie show material at temperatures of 1,800,000° F, and it is here where the canyon of fire imagery is most obvious. By comparing this with the other colors, one sees that the two swirling ribbons moving farther away from each other are, in fact, the footprints of the giant magnetic field loops, which are growing and expanding as the filament pulls them upward.

  • Holiday Lights on the Sun
    2014.12.22
    The sun emitted a significant solar flare, peaking at 7:24 p.m. EST on Dec. 19, 2014. NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, which watches the sun constantly, captured an image of the event. Solar flares are powerful bursts of radiation. Harmful radiation from a flare cannot pass through Earth's atmosphere to physically affect humans on the ground, however -- when intense enough -- they can disturb the atmosphere in the layer where GPS and communications signals travel. To see how this event may affect Earth, please visit NOAA's Space Weather Prediction Center at http://spaceweather.gov, the U.S. government's official source for space weather forecasts, alerts, watches and warnings. This flare is classified as an X1.8-class flare. X-class denotes the most intense flares, while the number provides more information about its strength. An X2 is twice as intense as an X1, an X3 is three times as intense, etc.
  • Five Year Time-lapse of SDO
    2015.02.11
    The Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) celebrates its 5th anniversary since it launched on February 11, 2010. This time-lapse video captures one frame every 8 hours starting when data became available in June 2010 and finishing February 8, 2015. The different colors represent the various wavelengths (sometimes blended, sometimes alone) in which SDO observes the sun. For more about SDO, please visit http://sdo.gsfc.nasa.gov/
  • Phoenix Prominence Eruption
    2015.05.01
    Over a six-hour period on April 21, 2015, NASA's Solar Dyanmics Observatory (SDO) observed a wing-like prominence eruption. SDO views the sun in various wavelegnths of the extreme ultravoilet, including 171 (shown in gold) and 304 (shown in orange) angstroms.
  • Massive Solar Eruption Close-up
    2011.06.30
    On June 7, 2011 the Sun unleashed an M-2 (medium-sized) solar flare with a spectacular coronal mass ejection (CME). The large cloud of particles mushroomed up and fell back down looking as if it covered an area almost half the solar surface.

    SDO observed the flare's peak at 1:41 AM ET. SDO recorded these images in extreme ultraviolet light that show a very large eruption of cool gas. It is somewhat unique because at many places in the eruption there seems to be even cooler material — at temperatures less than 80,000 K.

    This video uses the full-resolution 4096 x 4096 pixel images at a one minute time cadence to provide the highest quality, finest detail version possible.

    It is interesting to compare the event in different wavelengths because they each see different temperatures of plasma. See the transcript for more notes on this.

    Frames for each wavelength are available on these separate pages: 304, 171, 211, and1700.

Produced Videos

  • How Solar Flares Affect Earth
    2017.11.16
    A team of scientists —led by Laura Hayes, a solar physicist who splits her time between NASA Goddard and Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland— investigated a connection between solar flares and Earth’s atmosphere. They discovered pulses in the electrified layer of the atmosphere—called the ionosphere—mirrored X-ray oscillations during a July 24, 2016 flare.

    Music: "Good Chat" by Richard Anthony D Pike on Killer Tracks

    Watch this video on the NASA Goddard YouTube channel.

    Complete transcript available.

  • September Flares
    2017.09.06
    NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, which watches the sun constantly, captured images of the events. Solar flares are powerful bursts of radiation. Harmful radiation from a flare cannot pass through Earth's atmosphere to physically affect humans on the ground, however — when intense enough — they can disturb the atmosphere in the layer where GPS and communications signals travel. To see how this event may affect Earth, please visit NOAA's Space Weather Prediction Center at http://spaceweather.gov, the U.S. government's official source for space weather forecasts, alerts, watches and warnings. X-class denotes the most intense flares, while the number provides more information about its strength. An X2 is twice as intense as an X1, an X3 is three times as intense, etc. The X9.3 flare was the largest flare so far in the current solar cycle, the approximately 11-year-cycle during which the sun’s activity waxes and wanes. The current solar cycle began in December 2008, and is now decreasing in intensity and heading toward solar minimum. This is a phase when such eruptions on the sun are increasingly rare, but history has shown that they can nonetheless be intense.
  • What Spacecraft Saw During the 2017 Solar Eclipse
    2017.08.30
    On Aug. 21, 2017, a solar eclipse passed over North America. People throughout the continent experienced a partial solar eclipse, and a total solar eclipse passed over a narrow swath of land stretching from Oregon to South Carolina, called the path of totality.

    NASA and its partner’s satellites had a unique vantage point to watch the eclipse. Several Sun-watching satellites were in a position to see the Moon cross in front of the Sun, while many Earth-observing satellites – and NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, which typically images the Moon’s landscape – captured images of the Moon’s shadow on Earth’s surface.

    See more and download content at https://go.nasa.gov/2x7b8kf

    Imagery provided by:
    SDO NASA/SDO
    ISS NASA/ISS
    SOHO inside image credit: Solar Dynamics Observatory, LMSAL and NASA’s GSFC; Middle image: Jay Pasachoff, Ron Dantowitz, Christian Lockwood, and the Williams College Eclipse Expedition/NSF/National Geographic Outside image credit: LASCO from NRL on SOHO from ESA/NASA
    Hinode Image credit: JAXA/NASA
    GOES Image credit: NOAA/NASA’s GOES-16
    NOAA’s DSCOVR Image credit: NASA EPIC Team
    Terra Image credit: NASA Earth Observatory images by Joshua Stevens and Jesse Allen, using MODIS data from the Land Atmosphere Near real-time Capability for EOS (LANCE) and EOSDIS/Rapid Response
    Suomi NPP Image credit: NASA Earth Observatory image by Joshua Stevens and Jesse Allen, using VIIRS data from the University of Wisconsin’s Space Science and Engineering Center Direct Broadcast system.
    IRIS Image credit: LMSAL/NASA, Bart De Pontieu
    LRO Image credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University

  • Sun Shreds Its Own Eruption
    2017.08.11
    On September 30, 2014, multiple NASA observatories watched what appeared to be the beginnings of a solar eruption. A filament — a serpentine structure consisting of dense solar material and often associated with solar eruptions — rose from the surface, gaining energy and speed as it soared. But instead of erupting from the Sun, the filament collapsed, shredded to pieces by invisible magnetic forces.
  • Two Weeks in the Life of a Sunspot
    2017.08.04
    On July 5, 2017, NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory watched AR26665, an active region — an area of intense and complex magnetic fields — rotate into view on the sun. The satellite continued to track the region as it grew and eventually rotated across the sun and out of view on July 17.
  • Five Year Time-lapse of SDO
    2015.02.11
    The Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) celebrates its 5th anniversary since it launched on February 11, 2010. This time-lapse video captures one frame every 8 hours starting when data became available in June 2010 and finishing February 8, 2015. The different colors represent the various wavelengths (sometimes blended, sometimes alone) in which SDO observes the sun. For more about SDO, please visit http://sdo.gsfc.nasa.gov/
  • 2016 Mercury Transit in 4K
    2016.06.01
    Around 13 times per century, Mercury passes between Earth and the sun in a rare astronomical event known as a planetary transit. Mercury orbits in a plane that is tilted from Earth’s orbit, moving above or below our line of sight to the sun. The 2016 Mercury transit occurred on May 9th, between about 7:12 a.m. and 2:42 p.m. EDT. The images in this video are from NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory, or SDO. Transits provide a great opportunity to study the way planets and stars move in space– information that has been used throughout the ages to better understand the solar system and which still helps scientists today calibrate their instruments.
  • Filament Eruption Creates 'Canyon of Fire' on the Sun
    2013.10.24
    A magnetic filament of solar material erupted on the sun in late September, breaking the quiet conditions in a spectacular fashion. The 200,000 mile long filament ripped through the sun's atmosphere, the corona, leaving behind what looks like a canyon of fire. The glowing canyon traces the channel where magnetic fields held the filament aloft before the explosion. Visualizers at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. combined two days of satellite data to create a short movie of this gigantic event on the sun.

    In reality, the sun is not made of fire, but of something called plasma: particles so hot that their electrons have boiled off, creating a charged gas that is interwoven with magnetic fields.

    These images were captured on Sept. 29-30, 2013, by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory, or SDO, which constantly observes the sun in a variety of wavelengths.

    Different wavelengths help capture different aspect of events in the corona. The red images shown in the movie help highlight plasma at temperatures of 90,000° F and are good for observing filaments as they form and erupt. The yellow images, showing temperatures at 1,000,000° F, are useful for observing material coursing along the sun's magnetic field lines, seen in the movie as an arcade of loops across the area of the eruption. The browner images at the beginning of the movie show material at temperatures of 1,800,000° F, and it is here where the canyon of fire imagery is most obvious. By comparing this with the other colors, one sees that the two swirling ribbons moving farther away from each other are, in fact, the footprints of the giant magnetic field loops, which are growing and expanding as the filament pulls them upward.

  • NASA's Many Views of a Massive CME
    2014.09.24
    On July 23, 2012, a massive cloud of solar material erupted off the sun's right side, zooming out into space. It soon passed one of NASA's Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory, or STEREO, spacecraft, which clocked the CME as traveling between 1,800 and 2,200 miles per second as it left the sun. This was the fastest CME ever observed by STEREO. Two other observatories – NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory and the joint European Space Agency/NASA Solar and Heliospheric Observatory — witnessed the eruption as well. The July 2012 CME didn't move toward Earth, but watching an unusually strong CME like this gives scientists an opportunity to observe how these events originate and travel through space. STEREO's unique viewpoint from the sides of the sun combined with the other two observatories watching from closer to Earth helped scientists create models of the entire July 2012 event. They learned that an earlier, smaller CME helped clear the path for the larger event, thus contributing to its unusual speed. Such data helps advance our understanding of what causes CMEs and improves modeling of similar CMEs that could be Earth-directed.
  • Five Days of Flares and CMEs
    2013.10.29
    This movie shows 23 of the 26 M- and X-class flares on the sun between 18:00 UT Oct. 23 and 15:00 UT Oct. 28, 2013, as captured by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory. It also shows the coronal mass ejections — great clouds of solar material bursting off the sun into space — during that time as captured by the ESA/NASA Solar and Heliospheric Observatory.

4k Content

  • September Flares 4k
    2017.10.06
    Full-resolution 4k resources for the series of early September flares from active region 2673. These flares include: --an M5.5 at 4:33 p.m. EDT on Sept. 4, 2017 --an X2.2 at 5:10 a.m. EDT on Sept. 6, 2017 --an X9.3 at 8:02 a.m. EDT on Sept. 6, 2017 --an M7.3 at 6:15 a.m. EDT on Sept. 7, 2017 --an X1.3 at 10:36 a.m. EDT on Sept. 7, 2017 --an M8.1 at 3:49 a.m. EDT on Sept. 8, 2017 --an X8.2 at 12:47 p.m. EDT on Sept. 10, 2017
  • Mercury Transit 2016 from SDO/AIA at 171 Ångstroms
    2016.06.01
    Mercury transit, from May 9, 2016, as seen by the AIA telescope with 171 Ångstrom filter on Solar Dynamics Observatory. This is a composited product, producing a full disk 4Kx4K view by combining the image subsets taken at 12 second cadence with full-disk images taken about every 90 seconds. It is generated for esthetics use and it not suitable for scientific analysis.
  • The View from SDO: The August 31, 2012 Filament Eruption
    2012.10.26
    The Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) observed a large filament eruption on August 31, 2012.

    This visualization was generated using high time resolution (12 seconds) data from the Atmospheric Imaging Assembly (AIA). Two datasets are used, the SDO/AIA 304 Ångstrom wavelength (orange color table) and the 171 Ångstrom wavelength (gold color table). These are wavelengths in the ultraviolet band of the electromagnetic spectrum. They are not visible to the human eye or to ground-based telescopes so coded colors are used in presentation.

    It is the source material for "August 31, 2012 Magnificent CME" visualization.

  • July 2012: Coronal Rain
    2013.02.20
    A moderate solar flare was emitted by the sun on July 19, 2012. At 5:58 UTC it peaked at M7.7 on the flare scale, which makes it fairly powerful, but still much weaker than X-class flares, which are the largest. What made this particular event so noteworthy was the associated activity in the sun's corona. For the next day, hot plasma in corona cooled and condensed along the strong magnetic fields of the region that produced the flare. Magnetic fields are invisible, but the plasma is very obvious in the extreme ultraviolet wavelength of 304 angstroms, which highlights material at a temperature of about 50,000 Kelvin. This plasma is attracted to the magnetic fields and outlines them very clearly as it slowly falls back to the solar surface. This process of condensing plasma falling to the surface is called coronal rain.

    The footage in this video was collected by the Solar Dynamics Observatory's AIA instrument. SDO collected one frame every 12 seconds so each second in this video corresponds to 6 minutes of real time. The video covers 4:30 UTC on July 19th to 2:00 UTC on July 20th, a period of 21 hours and 30 minutes.

    Music—"Thunderbolt" by Lars Leonhard

  • Solar Tornados as Seen by SDO (February 7, 2012)
    2012.03.07
    A tornado-like structure is observed coming over the limb of the Sun (upper left quadrant) by SDO.
  • More Solar Excitement - October 2013
    2014.02.11
    Solar activity in October 2013 continues with several active regions, particularly on the limb, launching solar material into space.
  • Solar Prominence Dance - December 31, 2012
    2013.02.11
    On the final day of 2012, the sun presented a beautiful twisting prominence that rose high into the corona for about 3 hours. It was most visible in extreme ultraviolet light with a wavelength of 304 angstroms. This wavelength highlights plasma with temperatures of around 50,000 Kelvin. The Atmospheric Imaging Assembly on NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory captured the event at 4k resolution and a high imaging cadence of one image every 12 seconds.
  • Trebuchet Solar Eruption of February 2011
    2015.02.11
    Revisiting a large solar eruption from 2011, This event is sometimes called the Trebuchet Eruption.
  • Wispy 'Plasma Dancer' on the limb of the Sun
    2012.05.17
    This movie actually exhibits a number of interesting solar phenomena.

    The primary feature of interest was the whirrling tower of plasma on the lower right limb.

  • The Big Sunspot of 2014
    2015.02.11
    The largest sunspot seen so far in this solar cycle produced a number of flares, even a few X-class flares, but only one rather small coronal mass ejection (CME). Here is a view of the sunspot group during the two weeks it took to pass across the solar disk
  • Filament Eruption Creates 'Canyon of Fire' on the Sun
    2013.10.24
    A magnetic filament of solar material erupted on the sun in late September, breaking the quiet conditions in a spectacular fashion. The 200,000 mile long filament ripped through the sun's atmosphere, the corona, leaving behind what looks like a canyon of fire. The glowing canyon traces the channel where magnetic fields held the filament aloft before the explosion. Visualizers at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. combined two days of satellite data to create a short movie of this gigantic event on the sun.

    In reality, the sun is not made of fire, but of something called plasma: particles so hot that their electrons have boiled off, creating a charged gas that is interwoven with magnetic fields.

    These images were captured on Sept. 29-30, 2013, by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory, or SDO, which constantly observes the sun in a variety of wavelengths.

    Different wavelengths help capture different aspect of events in the corona. The red images shown in the movie help highlight plasma at temperatures of 90,000° F and are good for observing filaments as they form and erupt. The yellow images, showing temperatures at 1,000,000° F, are useful for observing material coursing along the sun's magnetic field lines, seen in the movie as an arcade of loops across the area of the eruption. The browner images at the beginning of the movie show material at temperatures of 1,800,000° F, and it is here where the canyon of fire imagery is most obvious. By comparing this with the other colors, one sees that the two swirling ribbons moving farther away from each other are, in fact, the footprints of the giant magnetic field loops, which are growing and expanding as the filament pulls them upward.

Solar Events

  • September Flares
    2017.09.06
    X-class denotes the most intense flares, while the number provides more information about its strength. An X2 is twice as intense as an X1, an X3 is three times as intense, etc. The X9.3 flare was the largest flare so far in the current solar cycle, the approximately 11-year-cycle during which the sun’s activity waxes and wanes. The current solar cycle began in December 2008, and is now decreasing in intensity and heading toward solar minimum. This is a phase when such eruptions on the sun are increasingly rare, but history has shown that they can nonetheless be intense.
  • SDO's View of the August 21 Solar Eclipse
    2017.08.22
    NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory was also treated to a view of the Moon blocking the Sun. Because of its location 3,000 miles above the Earth, SDO sees several lunar transits each year. An eclipse on the ground, however, does not guarantee that SDO will see anything out of the ordinary. In this case, SDO was lucky and got treated to the Moon briefly passing in front of its non-stop view of the Sun at the same time that the Moon’s shadow passed over the eastern United States. SDO only saw 14% of the Sun blocked by the Moon, whereas most US residents saw 60% or more. Launched on Feb. 11, 2010, the Solar Dynamics Observatory, or SDO, is the most advanced spacecraft ever designed to study the Sun. It has examined the Sun's atmosphere, magnetic field and also provided a better understanding of the role the Sun plays in Earth's atmospheric chemistry and climate. SDO captures images of the Sun in 10 different wavelengths every 12 seconds at resolution 8 times better than HD. Each wavelength helps highlight a different temperature of solar material. Different temperatures can, in turn, show specific structures on the sun such as solar flares, which are gigantic explosions of light and x-rays, or coronal loops, which are stream of solar material traveling up and down looping magnetic field lines. The videos and images displayed here are constructed from several wavelengths of extreme ultraviolet light and a portion of the visible spectrum. The red colored Sun is the 304 ångstrom ultraviolet, the golden colored Sun is 171 ångstrom, and the orange Sun is filtered visible light. 304 and 171 show the atmosphere of the Sun, which does not appear in the visible part of the spectrum. 171 highlights material at about 1 million degrees Fahrenheit (600,000 degrees Celsius.)
  • April 2017 Solar Flare Trio
    2017.04.03
    The sun emitted a trio of mid-level solar flares on April 2-3, 2017. NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, which watches the sun constantly, captured images of the three events.
  • SDO Sees Trio of Mid-Level Flares
    2016.07.25
    The sun emitted three mid-level solar flares on July 22-23, 2016, the strongest peaking at 1:16 am EDT on July 23. The sun is currently in a period of low activity, moving toward what's called solar minimum when there are few to no solar eruptions – so these flares were the first large ones observed since April. They are categorized as mid-strength flares, substantially less intense than the most powerful solar flares.
  • 2016 Mercury Transit Timelapse
    2016.05.09
    Around 13 times per century, Mercury passes between Earth and the sun in a rare astronomical event known as a planetary transit. Mercury orbits in a plane that is tilted from Earth’s orbit, moving above or below our line of sight to the sun.

    The 2016 Mercury transit occurred on May 9th, between about 7:12 a.m. and 2:42 p.m. EDT.

    The images in this video are from NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory, or SDO.

    Transits provide a great opportunity to study the way planets and stars move in space– information that has been used throughout the ages to better understand the solar system and which still helps scientists today calibrate their instruments.

  • NASA’s SDO Captures Stunning 4K View of April 17 Solar Flare
    2016.04.26
    On April 17, 2016, an active region on the sun’s right side released a mid-level solar flare, captured here by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory. This solar flare caused moderate radio blackouts, according to NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center. Scientists study active regions – which are areas of intense magnetism – to better understand why they sometimes erupt with such flares. This video was captured in several wavelengths of extreme ultraviolet light, a type of light that is typically invisible to our eyes, but is color-coded in SDO images for easy viewing.
  • SDO Transit - September 2015
    2015.09.14
    On Sept. 13, 2015, as NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, or SDO, kept up its constant watch on the sun, its view was photobombed not once, but twice. Just as the moon came into SDO’s field of view on a path to cross the sun, Earth entered the picture, blocking SDO’s view completely. When SDO's orbit finally emerged from behind Earth, the moon was just completing its journey across the sun’s face.

    Though SDO sees dozens of Earth eclipses and several lunar transits each year, this is the first time ever that the two have coincided.

    SDO’s orbit usually gives us unobstructed views of the sun, but Earth’s revolution around the sun means that SDO’s orbit passes behind Earth twice each year, for two to three weeks at a time. During these phases, Earth blocks SDO’s view of the sun for anywhere from a few minutes to over an hour once each day.

    Earth’s outline looks fuzzy, while the moon’s is crystal-clear. This is because—while the planet itself completely blocks the sun's light—Earth’s atmosphere is an incomplete barrier, blocking different amounts of light at different altitudes. However, the moon has no atmosphere, so during the transit we can see the crisp edges of the moon's horizon.

  • Arching Eruption
    2015.06.30
    NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory caught this image of an eruption on the side of the sun over June 18, 2015. The eruption ultimately escaped the sun, growing into a substantial coronal mass ejection, or CME — a giant cloud of solar material traveling through space. This imagery is shown in the 304 angstrom wavelength of extreme ultraviolet light, a wavelength that highlights material in the low parts of the sun’s atmosphere and that is typically colorized in red. The video clip covers about four hours of the event.

Still Images and Graphics

  • NASA's Heliophysics Fleet
    2018.06.01
    Heliophysics encompasses science that improves our un­derstanding of fundamental physical processes throughout the solar system, and enables us to understand how the Sun, as the major driver of the energy throughout the solar system, impacts our technological society. The scope of heliophysics is vast, spanning from the Sun’s interior to Earth’s upper atmosphere, throughout interplanetary space, to the edges of the heliosphere, where the solar wind interacts with the local interstellar medium. Heliophysics incorporates studies of the interconnected elements in a single system that produces dynamic space weather and that evolves in response to solar, planetary, and interstellar conditions.
  • SDO Resolution Comparison Resource Page
    2013.01.14
    Ultra High Definition, or 4k, TV has four times as many pixels as a high definition 1080 TV. NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO). Its Atmospheric Imaging Assembly (AIA) and Helioseismic Magnetic Imager (HMI) instruments together capture an image almost once a second that is twice again as large as what the ultra high-def screens can display. Such detailed pictures show features on the sun that are as small as 200 miles across, helping researchers observe such things as what causes giant eruptions on the sun known as coronal mass ejections (CME) that can travel toward Earth and interfere with our satellites.
  • Telescope on NASA's SDO Collects Its 100 Millionth Image
    2015.01.20
    On Jan. 19, 2015, at 12:49 p.m. EST, an instrument on NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory captured its 100 millionth image of the sun. The instrument is the Atmospheric Imaging Assembly, or AIA, which gathers uses four telescopes working parallel to gather eight images of the sun – cycling through 10 different wavelengths -- every 12 seconds. Between the AIA and two other instruments on board, the Helioseismic Magnetic Imager and the Extreme Ultraviolet Variability Experiment, SDO sends down a whopping 1.5 terabytes of data a day. AIA is responsible for about half of that. Every day it provides 57,600 detailed images of the sun that show the dance of how solar material sways and sometimes erupts in the solar atmosphere, the corona. In the almost five years since its launch on Feb. 11, 2010, SDO has provided images of the sun to help scientists better understand how the roiling corona gets to temperatures some 1000 times hotter than the sun's surface, what causes giant eruptions such as solar flares, and why the sun's magnetic fields are constantly on the move. In honor of the 100 millionth image, Dean Pesnell, SDO's project scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland and Karel Schrijver, the AIA principal investigator at Lockheed Martin in Palo Alto, California, chose some of their favorite images produced by SDO so far.
  • SDO Wavelength Graphics
    2013.01.23
    Specialized instruments, either in ground-based or space-based telescopes, can observe light far beyond the ranges visible to the naked eye. Different wavelengths convey information about different components of the sun's surface and atmosphere, so scientists use them to paint a full picture of our constantly changing and varying star.

    Yellow light of 5800 angstroms, for example, generally emanates from material of about 10,000 degrees F (5700 degrees C), which represents the surface of the sun. Extreme ultraviolet light of 94 angstroms, on the other hand, comes from atoms that are about 11 million degrees F (6,300,000 degrees C) and is a good wavelength for looking at solar flares, which can reach such high temperatures. By examining pictures of the sun in a variety of wavelengths — as is done through such telescopes as NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), NASA's Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory (STEREO) and the ESA/NASA Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) — scientists can track how particles and heat move through the sun's atmosphere.

    We see the visible spectrum of light simply because the sun is made up of a hot gas — heat produces light just as it does in an incandescent light bulb. But when it comes to the shorter wavelengths, the sun sends out extreme ultraviolet light and x-rays because it is filled with many kinds of atoms, each of which give off light of a certain wavelength when they reach a certain temperature. Not only does the sun contain many different atoms — helium, hydrogen, iron, for example — but also different kinds of each atom with different electrical charges, known as ions. Each ion can emit light at specific wavelengths when it reaches a particular temperature. Scientists have cataloged which atoms produce which wavelengths since the early 1900s, and the associations are well documented in lists that can take up hundreds of pages.

    Instruments that produce conventional images of the sun focus exclusively on light around one particular wavelength, sometimes not one that is visible to the naked eye. SDO scientists, for example, chose 10 different wavelengths to observe for its Atmospheric Imaging Assembly (AIA) instrument. Each wavelength is largely based on a single, or perhaps two types of ions — though slightly longer and shorter wavelengths produced by other ions are also invariably part of the picture. Each wavelength was chosen to highlight a particular part of the sun's atmosphere.

    From the sun's surface on out, the wavelengths SDO observes, measured in angstroms, are:

    4500: Showing the sun's surface or photosphere.

    1700: Shows surface of the sun, as well as a layer of the sun's atmosphere called the chromosphere, which lies just above the photosphere and is where the temperature begins rising.

    1600: Shows a mixture between the upper photosphere and what's called the transition region, a region between the chromosphere and the upper most layer of the sun's atmosphere called the corona. The transition region is where the temperature rapidly rises.

    304: This light is emitted from the chromosphere and transition region.

    171: This wavelength shows the sun's atmosphere, or corona, when it's quiet. It also shows giant magnetic arcs known as coronal loops.

    193: Shows a slightly hotter region of the corona, and also the much hotter material of a solar flare.

    211: This wavelength shows hotter, magnetically active regions in the sun's corona.

    335: This wavelength also shows hotter, magnetically active regions in the corona.

    94: This highlights regions of the corona during a solar flare.

    131: The hottest material in a flare.

  • Pumpkin Sun
    2014.10.10
    Active regions on the sun combined to look something like a jack-o-lantern’s face on Oct. 8, 2014. The active regions appear brighter because those are areas that emit more light and energy — markers of an intense and complex set of magnetic fields hovering in the sun’s atmosphere, the corona. This image blends together two sets of wavelengths at 171 and 193 angstroms, typically colorized in gold and yellow, to create a particularly Halloween-like appearance.
  • The Moon and the Sun: Two NASA Missions Join Their Images
    2013.06.12
    Two or three times a year, NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory observes the moon traveling across the sun, blocking its view. While this obscures solar observations for a short while, it offers the chance for an interesting view of the shadow of the moon. The moon’s crisp horizon can be seen up against the sun, since the moon does not have an atmosphere. (At other times of the year, when Earth blocks SDO’s view, the Earth’s horizon looks fuzzy due to its atmosphere.)

    If one looks closely at such a crisp border, the features of the moon’s topography are visible, as is the case in this image from Oct. 7, 2010. This recently inspired two NASA visualizers to overlay a 3-dimensional model of the moon based on data from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter into the shadow of the SDO image. Such a task is fairly tricky, as the visualizers — Scott Wiessinger who typically works with the SDO imagery and Ernie Wright who works with the LRO imagery — had to precisely match up data from the correct time and viewpoint for the two separate instruments. The end result is an awe-inspiring image of the sun and the moon.

    To start the process, the visualizers took the viewing position and time from the SDO image. This information was dropped into an LRO model that can produce the exact view of the moon from anywhere, at any time, by incorporating 6 billion individual measurements of the moon’s surface height from LRO’s Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter instrument. The model had to take many factors into consideration, including not only SDO’s distance and viewing angle, but also the moon’s rotation and constant motion. Wright used animation software to wrap the elevation and appearance map around a sphere to simulate the moon.

    The two images were put together and the overlay was exact. The mountains and valleys on the horizon of the LRO picture fit right into the shadows seen by SDO.

    In its own way, this served as a kind of calibration of data. It means that the SDO data on its position and time is highly accurate and that the LRO models, too, are able to accurately provide images of what’s happening at any given moment in time.

    And of course, the whole exercise provides for a beautiful picture.

Additional Resources