SDO: Stills and Graphics

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2020

  • March 7, 2012 X5.4 Flare
    2020.07.31
    An X5.4 class solar flare flashes in the edge of the Sun on March 07, 2012. This image was captured by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory and shows a blend of light from the 171 and 131 angstrom wavelengths. This image was created for the July 31, 2020 issue of Science

    Credit: NASA/GSFC/SDO

2017

  • 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'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.)
  • September Flares
    2017.09.06
    Active region 2673 emitted a series of flares in early September, 2017, including: --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 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.
    September 10, X8.2

    September 8, M8.1

    September 7, X1.3

    September 6, X9.3 and X2.2

    September 4, M5.5

2016

  • 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.
  • 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.

  • 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.
  • Various Sun Images for the Hyperwall
    2016.10.17
    The Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) provides ultra high-definition imagery of the Sun in 13 different wavelengths, utilizing two imaging instruments, the Atmospheric Imaging Assembly (AIA) instrument and the Helioseismic and Magnetic Imager (HMI). These images were captured by SDO on December 6, 2010.

2015

  • 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.
  • Solarium
    2015.02.05
    Solarium — an innovative new piece of video art — puts you directly in the heart of this mesmerizing show. The art taps into a vast reservoir of imagery from NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory. SDO watches ultratraviolet light invisible to the naked eye to track how material dances through the solar atmosphere. SDO takes a picture almost once a second -- no other solar observatory has ever collected data on the entire sun at the speeds with which SDO does. Each image has eight times as much resolution as an HD TV. graphical mock-up of Solarium installationScientists use SDO to trace how material courses through the layers of the solar atmosphere, the corona, powering gigantic burst of x-rays called solar flares and eruptions of solar particles that swirl upward and fall back down — or sometimes escape the sun’s gravity altogether, surging out into space. The observatory records the solar images as a binary code, ones and zeros, which computer programs can translate into black-and-white pictures. Scientists colorize the images for realism, and then zoom in on areas of interest. Each of SDO's colors relate to a wavelength of ultraviolet light, which in turn relates to a specific temperature of material on the sun. Each color highlights different events on the sun, for example teal is best for seeing flares, and yellow is best for seeing the majestic loops hovering in the sun's atmosphere. To scientists, SDO provides unprecedented information on the star we live with; to the rest of us, it provides breathtaking images. Solarium makes viewers stop and stare, instantly transported from where they had been moments earlier. For b-roll of SDO footage, please see related media at the bottom of this page.
  • Sun Emits an X2.2 Flare on March 11, 2015
    2015.03.11
    The sun emitted a significant solar flare, peaking at 12:22 p.m. EDT on March 11, 2015. 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.    This flare is classified as an X2.2-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.
  • NASA's SDO Observes a Cinco de Mayo Solar Flare
    2015.05.06
    The sun emitted a significant solar flare, peaking at 6:11 pm EDT on May 5, 2015. 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.    This flare is classified as an X2.7-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.
  • Space Weather Imagery of June 22 - 23, 2015 Events
    2015.06.23
    The sun emitted a CME and mid-level solar flare, peaking at 2:23 p.m. EDT, on June 22, 2015. Again on June 25, 2015, a mid-level solar flare peaked at 4:16 a.m. EDT. 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 first flare is classified as an M6.6 flare and the second was M7.9. M-class flares are a tenth the size of the most intense flares, the X-class flares. The number provides more information about its strength. An M2 is twice as intense as an M1, an M3 is three times as intense, etc.
  • 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.

2014

  • 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.
  • Sun unleashes first X-class flare of 2014
    2014.01.07
    The sun emitted a significant solar flare peaking at 1:32 p.m. EST on Jan.7, 2014. This is the first significant flare of 2014, and follows on the heels of mid-level flare earlier in the day. Each flare was centered over a different area of a large sunspot group currently situated at the center of the sun, about half way through its 14-day journey across the front of the disk along with the rotation of the sun.

    This flare is classified as an X1.2-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.

  • SDO Lunar Transit, Prominence Eruption, and M-Class Flare
    2014.01.30
    On Jan 30, 2014, beginning at 8:31 a.m EST, the moon moved between NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, or SDO, and the sun, giving the observatory a view of a partial solar eclipse from space. Such a lunar transit happens two to three times each year. This one lasted two and one half hours, which is the longest ever recorded. When the next one will occur is as of yet unknown due to planned adjustments in SDO's orbit.

    Note in the pictures how crisp the horizon is on the moon, a reflection of the fact that the moon has no atmosphere around it to distort the light from the sun.

    The sun emitted a mid-level solar flare, peaking at 11:11 a.m. EST on Jan. 30, 2014. Images of the flare were captured by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory, or SDO, shortly after the observatory witnessed a lunar transit. The black disk of the moon can be seen in the lower right of the images.

  • NASA's IRIS Spots Its Largest Solar Flare
    2014.02.21
    On Jan. 28, 2014, NASA's Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph, or IRIS, witnessed its strongest solar flare since it launched in the summer of 2013. Solar flares are bursts of x-rays and light that stream out into space, but scientists don't yet know the fine details of what sets them off. IRIS peers into a layer of the sun's lower atmosphere just above the surface, called the chromosphere, with unprecedented resolution. However, IRIS can't look at the entire sun at the same time, so the team must always make decisions about what region might provide useful observations. On Jan. 28, scientists spotted a magnetically active region on the sun and focused IRIS on it to see how the solar material behaved under intense magnetic forces. At 2:40 p.m. EST, a moderate flare, labeled an M-class flare — which is the second strongest class flare after X-class – erupted from the area, sending light and x-rays into space. IRIS studies the layer of the sun’s atmosphere called the chromosphere that is key to regulating the flow of energy and material as they travel from the sun's surface out into space. Along the way, the energy heats up the upper atmosphere, the corona, and sometimes powers solar events such as this flare. IRIS is equipped with an instrument called a spectrograph that can separate out the light it sees into its individual wavelengths, which in turn correlates to material at different temperatures, velocities and densities. The spectrograph on IRIS was pointed right into the heart of this flare when it reached its peak, and so the data obtained can help determine how different temperatures of plasma flow where, giving scientists more insight into how flares work.
  • NASA's SDO Provides Images of Significant Solar Flare
    2014.02.25
    The sun emitted a significant solar flare, peaking at 7:49 p.m. EST on Feb. 24, 2014. NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory, which keeps a constant watch on the sun, captured images of the event.

    This flare is classified as an X4.9-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.

  • Giant Sunspot Makes Third Trip Across the Sun
    2014.02.28
    A giant sunspot – a magnetically strong and complex region on the sun's surface – has just appeared over the sun's horizon. This is the third trip for this region across the face of the sun, which takes approximately 27 days to make a complete rotation.

    Scientists track sunspots that are part of active regions, which often produce large explosions on the sun such as solar flares and coronal mass ejections, or CMEs. Each time an active region appears it is assigned a number. Active regions that have survived their trip around the back of the sun and reappear are assigned a new number – a convention left over from when we had no telescopes observing the far side of the sun and so could not be sure that the new sunspot was indeed the same as the old one. This active region is currently labeled AR11990. Last time around it was labeled AR11967and its first time it was AR11944.

    During its three trips thus far, this region has produced two significant solar flares, labeled as the strongest kind of flare, an X-class. It has also produced numerous mid-level and smaller flares. While many sunspots do not last more than a couple of weeks, there have been sunspots known to be stable for many months at a time.

    Studying what causes active regions to appear and disappear over time, as well as how long they remain stable, is key to understanding the origins of space weather that can impact Earth’s technological infrastructure.

  • X-class Flare Erupts from Sun on April 24
    2014.04.25
    The sun emitted a significant solar flare, peaking at 8:27 p.m. EDT on April 24, 2014. Images of the flare were captured by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory. 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. This flare is classified as an X1.4 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.
  • The Best Observed X-class Flare
    2014.05.07
    On March 29, 2014 the sun released an X-class flare. It was observed by NASA's Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph, or IRIS; NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory, or SDO; NASA's Reuven Ramaty High Energy Solar Spectroscopic Imager, or RHESSI; the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency's Hinode; and the National Solar Observatory's Dunn Solar Telescope located at Sacramento Peak in New Mexico.

    To have a record of such an intense flare from so many observatories is unprecedented. Such research can help scientists better understand what catalyst sets off these large explosions on the sun. Perhaps we may even some day be able to predict their onset and forewarn of the radio blackouts solar flares can cause near Earth – blackouts that can interfere with airplane, ship and military communications.

  • Sun Emits 3 X-class Flares in 2 Days
    2014.06.10
    The sun emitted a significant solar flare, peaking at 7:42 a.m. EDT on June 10, 2014. NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory – which typically observes the entire sun 24 hours a day — captured images of the flare. This flare is classified as an X2.2 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. About one hour later, the sun released a second X-class flare, peaking at 8:52 a.m. EDT on June 10, 2014. This is classified as an X1.5 flare.
  • Late Summer M5 Solar Flare - August, 24, 2014
    2014.08.25
    On Aug. 24, 2014, the sun emitted a mid-level solar flare, peaking at 8:16 a.m. EDT. NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory captured images of the flare, which erupted on the left side of the sun. 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 M5 flare. M-class flares are ten times less powerful than the most intense flares, called X-class flares.

    Visit the SDO site.

    All Video and Image Credit: NASA/SDO

  • September 10, 2014 X1.6 flare
    2014.09.11
    The sun emitted a significant solar flare, peaking at 1:48 p.m. EDT on Sept. 10, 2014. NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory captured images 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. This flare is classified as an X1.6 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.
  • Sun Emits Mid-Level Flare on October 2, 2014
    2014.10.03
    The sun emitted a mid-level solar flare, peaking at 3:01 p.m. EDT on Oct. 2, 2014. NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory, which watches the sun 24-hours a day, captured images of the flare. 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. This flare is classified as an M7.3 flare. M-class flares are one-tenth as powerful as the most powerful flares, which are designated X-class flares.
  • Second Substantial Flare in Two Days
    2014.10.22
    The sun emitted a mid-level solar flare, peaking at 9:59 p.m. EDT on Oct. 21, 2014. NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory, which is always observing the sun, captured an image of the event. The same active region previously emitted an X1.1 solar flare on Oct. 19. 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. This flare is classified as an M 8.7-class flare. M-class denotes flares that are a tenth as strong as X-class flares, which are the most intense flares. The number provides more information about its strength. An M2 is twice as intense as an M1, an M3 is three times as intense, etc.
  • Giant Sunspot Continues to Erupt with Substantial Flares
    2014.10.24
    The sun emitted a significant solar flare, peaking at 5:40 p.m. EDT on Oct. 24, 2014. NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory, which watches the sun constantly, captured images 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. This flare is classified as an X3.1-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. The flare erupted from a particularly large active region -- labeled AR 12192 -- on the sun that is the largest in 24 years. This is the fourth substantial flare from this active region since Oct. 19. The giant active region on the sun erupted on Oct. 26, 2014, with it's sixth substantial flare since Oct.19. This flare was classified as an X2-class flare and it peaked at 6:56 am EDT. Continuing a week's worth of substantial flares beginning on Oct.19, 2014, the sun emitted two mid-level solar flares on Oct. 26 and Oct. 27. The first peaked at 8:34 pm EDT on Oct. 26, 2014, and the second peaked almost 10 hours later at 6:09 am EDT on Oct. 27. NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory, which constantly observes the sun, captured images of both flares. A large active region on the sun erupted with another X-class flare, an X2.0, on Oct. 27, 2014 -- its fourth since Oct. 24. The flare peaked at 10:47 a.m. EDT. The sun emitted a mid-level solar flare, an M6.6-class, peaking at 11:32 pm EDT on Oct. 28, 2014
  • A Series of Flares from November Active Region 12205
    2014.11.05
    Images of the flares from the active region labeled AR 12205, which rotated over the left limb of the sun on Nov. 3, 2014. An active region on the sun emitted a mid-level solar flare, peaking at 4:47 a.m. EST on Nov. 5, 2014. This was the second mid-level flare from the same active region. The third flare was an X1.6, emitted on Nov. 7, 2014, peaking at 12:26 pm EST. 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. This flare is classified as an M7.9-class flare. M-class flares are a tenth the size of the most intense flares, the X-class flares. The number provides more information about its strength. An M2 is twice as intense as an M1, an M3 is three times as intense, etc.
  • 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.

2013

  • 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.
  • 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.

  • SDO Provides First Sightings of How
    a CME Forms
    2013.01.31
    On July 18, 2012, a fairly small explosion of light burst off the lower right limb of the sun. Such flares often come with an associated eruption of solar material, known as a coronal mass ejection or CME — but this one did not. Something interesting did happen, however. Magnetic field lines in this area of the sun's atmosphere, the corona, began to twist and kink, generating the hottest solar material — a charged gas called plasma — to trace out the newly-formed slinky shape. The plasma glowed brightly in extreme ultraviolet images from the Atmospheric Imaging Assembly (AIA) aboard NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) and scientists were able to watch for the first time the very formation of something they had long theorized was at the heart of many eruptive events on the sun: a flux rope.

    Eight hours later, on July 19, the same region flared again. This time the flux rope's connection to the sun was severed, and the magnetic fields escaped into space, dragging billions of tons of solar material along for the ride — a classic CME.

    More than just gorgeous to see, such direct observation offers one case study on how this crucial kernel at the heart of a CME forms. Such flux ropes have been seen in images of CMEs as they fly away from the sun, but it's never been known — indeed, has been strongly debated — whether the flux rope formed before or in conjunction with a CME's launch. This case shows a clear-cut example of the flux rope forming ahead of time.

    Watch this video on YouTube.

  • SDO Observes Fast-Growing Sunspot
    2013.02.22
    As magnetic fields on the sun rearrange and realign, dark spots known as sunspots can appear on its surface. Over the course of Feb. 19-20, 2013, scientists watched a giant sunspot form in under 48 hours. It has grown to over six Earth diameters across but its full extent is hard to judge since the spot lies on a sphere not a flat disk.

    The spot quickly evolved into what's called a delta region, in which the lighter areas around the sunspot, the penumbra, exhibit magnetic fields that point in the opposite direction of those fields in the center, dark area. This is a fairly unstable configuration that scientists know can lead to eruptions of radiation on the sun called solar flares.

  • The Sun Emits a Mid-level Flare and CME
    2013.04.11
    The sun emitted a mid-level flare, peaking at 3:16 a.m. EDT on April 11, 2013.

    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. This disrupts the radio signals for as long as the flare is ongoing, anywhere from minutes to hours.

    This flare is classified as an M6.5 flare, some ten times less powerful than the strongest flares, which are labeled X-class flares. M-class flares are the weakest flares that can still cause some space weather effects near Earth. This flare produced a radio blackout that has since subsided. The blackout was categorized as an R2 on a scale between R1 and R5 on NOAA's space weather scales.

    This is the strongest flare seen so far in 2013. Increased numbers of flares are quite common at the moment, since the sun's normal 11-year activity cycle is ramping up toward solar maximum, which is expected in late 2013. Humans have tracked this solar cycle continuously since it was discovered, and it is normal for there to be many flares a day during the sun's peak activity.

  • 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.

    Noteworthy events that appear briefly in the main sequence of this video:

    00:30;24 Partial eclipse by the moon

    00:31;16 Roll maneuver

    01:11;02 August 9, 2011 X6.9 Flare, currently the largest of this solar cycle

    01:28;07 Comet Lovejoy, December 15, 2011

    01:42;29 Roll Maneuver

    01:51;07 Transit of Venus, June 5, 2012

    02:28;13 Partial eclipse by the moon

    Watch this video on YouTube.

  • Sun Emits Mid-Level Flare and Prominence Eruption
    2013.05.03
    The sun emitted a mid-level solar flare, peaking at 1:32 pm EDT on May 3, 2013. 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. This disrupts the radio signals for as long as the flare is ongoing, and the radio blackout for this flare has already subsided.

    This flare is classified as an M5.7-class flare. M-class flares are the weakest flares that can still cause some space weather effects near Earth. Increased numbers of flares are quite common at the moment, as the sun's normal 11-year activity cycle is ramping up toward solar maximum, which is expected in late 2013.

  • NASA's Heliophysics Fleet Captures May 1, 2013 Prominence Eruption and CME
    2013.05.07
    On May 1, 2013, NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) watched as an active region just around the East limb (left edge) of the sun erupted with a huge cloud of solar material—a heated, charged gas called plasma. This eruption, called a coronal mass ejection, or CME, sent the plasma streaming out through the solar system. Viewing the sun in the extreme ultraviolet wavelength of 304 angstroms, SDO provided a beautiful view of the initial arc as it left the solar surface.

    Such eruptions soon leave SDO's field of view, but other satellites in NASA's Heliophysics fleet can pick them up, tracking such space weather to determine if they are headed toward Earth or spacecraft near other planets. With advance warning, many space assets can be put into safe mode and protect themselves from the effects of such particle radiation.

    In addition to the images captured by SDO, the May 1, 2013 CME was also observed by the ESA/NASA Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO). SOHO houses two overlapping coronagraphs—telescopes where the bright sun is blocked by a disk so it doesn't overpower the fainter solar atmosphere—and they both saw the CME continue outward. The LASCO C2 coronagraph shows the region out to about 2.5 million miles. The LASCO C3 coronagraph expands even farther out to around 13.5 million miles. Both of these instruments show the CME as it expands and becomes fainter on its trip away from the sun.

    NASA's Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory (STEREO) Ahead satellite saw the eruption from a very different angle. It, along with its twin STEREO Behind, is orbiting at a similar distance as Earth. STEREO-A orbits slightly faster than Earth and STEREO-B orbits slightly slower. Currently, STEREO-A is more than two-thirds of the way to being directly behind the sun, and has a view of the far side of the sun. From this perspective, the CME came off the right side of the sun. STEREO has an extreme ultraviolet camera similar to SDO's, but it also has coronagraphs like SOHO. As a result, using its two inner coronagraphs, it was able to track the CME from the solar surface out to 6.3 million miles.

    Working together, such missions provide excellent coverage of a wide variety of solar events, a wealth of scientific data—and lots of beautiful imagery.

    Watch this video on YouTube.

  • First X-Class Solar Flares of 2013
    2013.05.13
    On May 13, 2013, the sun emitted an X2.8-class flare, peaking at 12:05 p.m. EDT. This is the the strongest X-class flare of 2013 so far, surpassing in strength the X1.7-class flare that occurred 14 hours earlier. It is the 16th X-class flare of the current solar cycle and the third-largest flare of that cycle. The second-strongest was an X5.4 event on March 7, 2012. The strongest was an X6.9 on Aug. 9, 2011.

    On May 12, 2013, the sun emitted a significant solar flare, peaking at 10 p.m. EDT. This flare is classified as an X1.7, making it the first X-class flare of 2013. The flare was also associated with another solar phenomenon, called a coronal mass ejection (CME) that can send solar material out into space. This CME was not Earth-directed.

    The May 12 flare was also associated with a coronal mass ejection, another solar phenomenon that can send billions of tons of solar particles into space, which can affect electronic systems in satellites and on the ground. Experimental NASA research models show that the CME left the sun at 745 miles per second and is not Earth-directed, however its flank may pass by the STEREO-B and Spitzer spacecraft, and their mission operators have been notified. If warranted, operators can put spacecraft into safe mode to protect the instruments from solar material. There is some particle radiation associated with this event, which is what can concern operators of interplanetary spacecraft since the particles can trip computer electronics on board.

  • 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.

  • Sun Emits a Solstice CME
    2013.06.28
    On June 20, 2013, at 11:24 p.m., the sun erupted with an Earth-directed coronal mass ejection or CME, a solar phenomenon that can send billions of tons of particles into space that can reach Earth one to three days later. These particles cannot travel through the atmosphere to harm humans on Earth, but they can affect electronic systems in satellites and on the ground.

    Experimental NASA research models, based on observations from NASA's Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory and ESA/NASA's Solar and Heliospheric Observatory show that the CME left the sun at speeds of around 1350 miles per second, which is a fast speed for CMEs.

    Earth-directed CMEs can cause a space weather phenomenon called a geomagnetic storm, which occurs when they funnel energy into Earth's magnetic envelope, the magnetosphere, for an extended period of time. The CME's magnetic fields peel back the outermost layers of Earth's fields changing their very shape. Magnetic storms can degrade communication signals and cause unexpected electrical surges in power grids. They also can cause aurora. Storms are rare during solar minimum, but as the sun's activity ramps up every 11 years toward solar maximum—currently expected in late 2013—large storms occur several times per year.

    In the past, geomagnetic storms caused by CMEs of this strength and direction have usually been mild.

    In addition, the CME may pass by additional spacecraft: Messenger, STEREO B, Spitzer, and their mission operators have been notified. If warranted, operators can put spacecraft into safe mode to protect the instruments from the solar material.

  • X Marks the Spot: SDO Sees Reconnection
    2013.07.15
    Two NASA spacecraft have provided the most comprehensive movie ever of a mysterious process at the heart of all explosions on the sun: magnetic reconnection.

    Magnetic reconnection happens when magnetic field lines come together, break apart, and then exchange partners, snapping into new positions and releasing a jolt of magnetic energy. This process lies at the heart of giant explosions on the sun such as solar flares and coronal mass ejections, which can fling radiation and particles across the solar system.

    Magnetic field lines, themselves, are invisible, but the sun's charged plasma particles course along their length. Space telescopes can see that material appearing as bright lines looping and arcing through the sun’s atmosphere, and so map out the presence of magnetic field lines.

    Looking at a series of images from the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), scientists saw two bundles of field lines move toward each other, meet briefly to form what appeared to be an “X” and then shoot apart with one set of lines and its attendant particles leaping into space and one set falling back down onto the sun.

    To confirm what they were seeing, the scientists turned to a second NASA spacecraft, the Reuven Ramaty High Energy Solar Spectroscopic Imager (RHESSI). RHESSI collects spectrograms, a kind of data that can show where exceptionally hot material is present in any given event on the sun. RHESSI showed hot pockets of solar material forming above and below the reconnection point, an established signature of such an event. By combining the SDO and RHESSI data, the scientists were able to describe the process of what they were seeing, largely confirming previous models and theories, while revealing new, three-dimensional aspects of the process.

  • 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.

  • Sun Emits Third Solar Flare in Two Days
    2013.10.25
    The sun emitted a significant solar flare, peaking at 4:01 a.m. EDT on Oct. 25, 2013. 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. This disrupts the radio signals for as long as the flare is ongoing, anywhere from minutes to hours.

    This flare is classified as an X1.7 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. In the past, X-class flares of this intensity have caused degradation or blackouts of radio communications for about an hour.

    Increased numbers of flares are quite common at the moment, since the sun's normal 11-year activity cycle is currently near solar maximum conditions. Humans have tracked this solar cycle continuously since it was discovered in 1843, and it is normal for there to be many flares a day during the sun's peak activity. The first X-class flare of the current solar cycle occurred on February 15, 2011. The largest X-class flare in this cycle was an X6.9 on August 9, 2011.

  • Sun Continues to Emit Solar Flares
    2013.10.28
    After emitting its first significant solar flares since June 2013 earlier in the week, the sun continued to produce mid-level and significant solar flares on Oct. 27 and Oct. 28, 2013.

    Then, on Nov. 5, 2013, The sun emitted a significant solar flare, peaking at 5:12 p.m. EST. This flare was classified as an X3.3 flare.

    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.

    One of the larger flares was classified as an X1.0 flare, which peaked at 10:03 p.m. EDT on Oct. 27. "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. In the past, X-class flares of this intensity have caused degradation or blackouts of radio communications for about an hour.

    Another large flare was classified as an M5.1 flare, which peaked at 12: 41 a.m. EDT on Oct. 28. Between Oct. 23, and the morning of Oct 28, there were three X-class flares and more than 15 additional M-class flares.

    Increased numbers of flares are quite common at the moment, since the sun is headed toward solar maximum conditions as part of its normal 11-year activity cycle. Humans have tracked this solar cycle continuously since it was discovered in 1843, and it is normal for there to be many flares a day during the sun's peak activity.

    The recent solar flare activity has also been accompanied by several coronal mass ejections or CMEs, another solar phenomenon that can send billions of tons of particles into space that can reach Earth one to three days later. These particles cannot travel through the atmosphere to harm humans on Earth, but they can affect electronic systems in satellites and on the ground.

  • 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.
  • Solar Dynamics Observatory - Argo view
    2013.12.17
    Argos (or Argus Panoptes) was the 100-eyed giant in Greek mythology (wikipedia).

    While the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) has significantly less than 100 eyes, (see "SDO Jewelbox: The Many Eyes of SDO"), seeing connections in the solar atmosphere through the many filters of SDO presents a number of interesting challenges. This visualization experiment illustrates a mechanism for highlighting these connections.

    The wavelengths presented are: 617.3nm optical light from SDO/HMI. From SDO/AIA we have 170nm (pink), then 160nm (green), 33.5nm (blue), 30.4nm (orange), 21.1nm (violet), 19.3nm (bronze), 17.1nm (gold), 13.1nm (aqua) and 9.4nm (green).

    We've locked the camera to rotate the view of the Sun so each wedge-shaped wavelength filter passes over a region of the Sun. As the features pass from one wavelength to the next, we can see dramatic differences in solar structures that appear in different wavelengths.

    • Filaments extending off the limb of the Sun which are bright in 30.4 nanometers, appear dark in many other wavelengths.
    • Sunspots which appear dark in optical wavelengths, are festooned with glowing ribbons in ultraviolet wavelengths.
    • Small flares, invisible in optical wavelengths, are bright ribbons in ultraviolet wavelengths.
    • If we compare the visible light limb of the Sun with the 170 nanometer filter on the left, with the visible light limb and the 9.4 nanometer filter on the right, we see that the 'edge' is at different heights. This effect is due to the different amounts of absorption, and emission, of the solar atmosphere in ultraviolet light.
    • In far ultraviolet light, the photosphere is dark since the black-body spectrum at a temperature of 5700 Kelvin emits very little light in this wavelength.
  • Solar Dynamics Observatory - Argo view - Slices of SDO
    2013.12.24
    Argos (or Argus Panoptes) was the 100-eyed giant in Greek mythology (wikipedia).

    While the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) has significantly less than 100 eyes, (see "SDO Jewelbox: The Many Eyes of SDO"), seeing connections in the solar atmosphere through the many filters of SDO presents a number of interesting challenges. This visualization experiment illustrates a mechanism for highlighting these connections.

    This visualization is a variation of the original Solar Dynamics Observatory - Argo view. In this case, the different wavelength filters are presented in three sets around the Sun at full 4Kx4K resolution. This enables monitoring of changes in time over all wavelengths at any location around the limb of the Sun.

    The wavelengths presented are: 617.3nm optical light from SDO/HMI. From SDO/AIA we have 170nm (pink), then 160nm (green), 33.5nm (blue), 30.4nm (orange), 21.1nm (violet), 19.3nm (bronze), 17.1nm (gold), 13.1nm (aqua) and 9.4nm (green).

    We've locked the camera to rotate the view of the Sun so each wedge-shaped wavelength filter passes over a region of the Sun. As the features pass from one wavelength to the next, we can see dramatic differences in solar structures that appear in different wavelengths.

    • Filaments extending off the limb of the Sun which are bright in 30.4 nanometers, appear dark in many other wavelengths.
    • Sunspots which appear dark in optical wavelengths, are festooned with glowing ribbons in ultraviolet wavelengths.
    • small flares, invisible in optical wavelengths, are bright ribbons in ultraviolet wavelengths.
    • if we compare the visible light limb of the Sun with the 170 nanometer filter on the left, with the visible light limb and the 9.4 nanometer filter on the right, we see that the 'edge' is at different heights. This effect is due to the different amounts of absorption, and emission, of the solar atmosphere in ultraviolet light.
    • in far ultraviolet light, the photosphere is dark since the black-body spectrum at a temperature of 5700 Kelvin emits very little light in this wavelength.

2012

  • HD Close up of March 6th X5.4 Flare
    2012.03.07
    The sun erupted with one of the largest solar flares of this solar cycle on March 6, 2012 at 7PM ET. ?This flare was categorized as an X5.4, making it the second largest flare — after an X6.9 on August 9, 2011 — since the sun's activity segued into a period of relatively low activity called solar minimum in early 2007. The current increase in the number of X-class flares is part of the sun's normal 11-year solar cycle, during which activity on the sun ramps up to solar maximum, which is expected to peak in late 2013.

    About an hour later, at 8:14 PM ET, March 6, the same region let loose an X1.3 class flare. ?An X1 is 5 times smaller than an X5 flare.

    These X-class flares erupted from an active region named AR 1429 that rotated into view on March 2. ?Prior to this, the region had already produced numerous M-class and one X-class flare. ?The region continues to rotate across the front of the sun, so the March 6 flare was more Earthward facing than the previous ones. ?It triggered a temporary radio blackout on the sunlit side of Earth that interfered with radio navigation and short wave radio.

    In association with these flares, the sun also expelled two significant coronal mass ejections (CMEs), which are traveling faster than 600 miles a second and may arrive at Earth in the next few days. ?In the meantime, the CME associated with the X-class flare from March 4 has dumped solar particles and magnetic fields into Earth's atmosphere and distorted Earth's magnetic fields, causing a moderate geomagnetic storm, rated a G2 on a scale from G1 to G5. ?Such storms happen when the magnetic fields around Earth rapidly change strength and shape. ?A moderate storm usually causes aurora and may interfere with high frequency radio transmission near the poles. ?This storm is already dwindling, but the Earth may experience another enhancement if the most recent CMEs are directed toward and impact Earth.

    In addition, last night's flares have sent solar particles into Earth's atmosphere, producing a moderate solar energetic particle event, also called a solar radiation storm. These particles have been detected by NASA's SOHO and STEREO spacecraft, and NOAA's GOES spacecraft. ?At the time of writing, this storm is rated an S3 on a scale that goes up to S5. ?Such storms can interfere with high frequency radio communication.

    Besides the August 2011 X-class flare, the last time the sun sent out flares of this magnitude was in 2006. ?There was an X6.5 on December 6, 2006 and an X9.0 on December 5, 2006. Like the most recent events, those two flares erupted from the same region on the sun, which is a common occurrence.

  • March 7, 2012 X5.4 Flare
    2020.07.31
    An X5.4 class solar flare flashes in the edge of the Sun on March 07, 2012. This image was captured by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory and shows a blend of light from the 171 and 131 angstrom wavelengths. This image was created for the July 31, 2020 issue of Science

    Credit: NASA/GSFC/SDO

  • Big Blast—April 16th Flare and CME
    2012.04.16
    A beautiful prominence eruption producing a coronal mass ejection (CME) shot off the east limb (left side) of the sun on April 16, 2012. Such eruptions are often associated with solar flares, and in this case an M1 class (medium-sized) flare occurred at the same time, peaking at 1:45 PM EDT. The CME was not aimed toward Earth.

    For full 4k frames of the April 15 small eruption and April 16 large eruption go here.

  • Incandescent Sun
    2012.05.23
    This video takes SDO images and applies additional processing to enhance the structures visible. While there is no scientific value to this processing, it does result in a beautiful, new way of looking at the sun. The original frames are in the 171 angstrom wavelength of extreme ultraviolet. This wavelength shows plasma in the solar atmosphere, called the corona, that is around 600,000 Kelvin. The loops represent plasma held in place by magnetic fields. They are concentrated in "active regions" where the magnetic fields are the strongest. These active regions usually appear in visible light as sunspots. The events in this video represent 24 hours of activity on September 25, 2011.
  • SDO's Ultra-high Definition View of 2012 Venus Transit
    2012.06.05
    Launched on Feb. 11, 2010, the Solar Dynamics Observatory, or SDO, is the most advanced spacecraft ever designed to study the sun. During its five-year mission, it will examine the sun's atmosphere, magnetic field and also provide a better understanding of the role the sun plays in Earth's atmospheric chemistry and climate. SDO provides images with resolution 8 times better than high-definition television and returns more than a terabyte of data each day.

    On June 5 2012, SDO collected images of the rarest predictable solar event—the transit of Venus across the face of the sun. This event lasted approximately 6 hours and happens in pairs eight years apart, which are separated from each other by 105 or 121 years. The last transit was in 2004 and the next will not happen until 2117.

    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 angstrom ultraviolet, the golden colored sun is 171 angstrom, the magenta sun is 1700 angstrom, 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.

  • Independence Day Solar Fireworks
    2012.07.05
    On July 2, 2012, an M5.6 class solar flare erupted in the sun's southern hemisphere from large sunspot AR1515, peaking at 6:52 AM EDT.

    From a different spot, but on that same day, the sun unleashed a coronal mass ejection (CME) that began at 4:36 AM EDT. Models from the NASA's Space Weather Center at Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md, describe the CME at traveling at nearly 700 miles per second, but do not show it heading toward Earth.

  • Big Sunspot 1520 Releases X1.4 Class Flare
    2012.07.12
    An X1.4 class flare erupted from the center of the sun, peaking on July 12, 2012 at 12:52 PM EDT. It erupted from Active Region 1520 which rotated into view on July 6.
  • Before the Flare: AR1520 and Shimmering Coronal Loops
    2012.07.16
    The sun emitted a large flare on July 12, 2012, but earlier in the week it gave a demonstration of how gorgeous solar activity can be. This movie shows the sun from late July 8 to early July 10 shortly before it unleashed an X-class flare beginning at 12:11 PM EDT on July 12 as captured by the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO).
  • AR1520's Parting Shot: July 19, 2012 M7.7 Flare
    2012.07.19
    The sun emitted a moderate solar flare on July 19, 2012, beginning at 1:13 AM EDT and peaking at 1:58 AM. Solar flares are gigantic bursts of radiation that cannot pass through Earth's atmosphere to harm humans on the ground, however, when strong enough, they can disrupt the atmosphere and degrade GPS and communications signals.

    The flare is classified as an M7.7 flare. This means it is weaker than the largest flares, which are classified as X-class. M-class flares can cause brief radio communications blackouts at the poles.

    Increased numbers of flares are currently quite common, since the sun's standard 11-year activity cycle is ramping up toward solar maximum, which is expected in 2013. It is quite normal for there to be many flares a day during the sun's peak activity.

  • Van Gogh Sun
    2012.07.19
    A crucial, and often underappreciated, facet of science lies in deciding how to turn the raw numbers of data into useful, understandable information — often through graphs and images. Such visualization techniques are needed for everything from making a map of planetary orbits based on nightly measurements of where they are in the sky to colorizing normally invisible light such as X-rays to produce "images" of the sun.

    More information, of course, requires more complex visualizations and occasionally such images are not just informative, but beautiful too.

    Such is the case with a new technique created by Nicholeen Viall, a solar scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. She creates images of the sun reminiscent of Van Gogh, with broad strokes of bright color splashed across a yellow background. But it's science, not art. The color of each pixel contains a wealth of information about the 12-hour history of cooling and heating at that particular spot on the sun. That heat history holds clues to the mechanisms that drive the temperature and movements of the sun's atmosphere, or corona.

    To look at the corona from a fresh perspective, Viall created a new kind of picture, making use of the high resolution provided by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO). SDO's Atmospheric Imaging Assembly (AIA) provides images of the sun in 10 different wavelengths, each approximately corresponding to a single temperature of material. Therefore, when one looks at the wavelength of 171 angstroms, for example, one sees all the material in the sun's atmosphere that is a million degrees Kelvin. By looking at an area of the sun in different wavelengths, one can get a sense of how different swaths of material change temperature. If an area seems bright in a wavelength that shows a hotter temperature an hour before it becomes bright in a wavelength that shows a cooler temperature, one can gather information about how that region has changed over time.

    Viall's images show a wealth of reds, oranges, and yellow, meaning that over a 12-hour period the material appear to be cooling. Obviously there must have been heating in the process as well, since the corona isn't on a one-way temperature slide down to zero degrees. Any kind of steady heating throughout the corona would have shown up in Viall's images, so she concludes that the heating must be quick and impulsive — so fast that it doesn't show up in her images. This lends credence to those theories that say numerous nanobursts of energy help heat the corona.

  • 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.
  • Getting NASA's SDO into Focus
    2012.10.05
    From Sep. 6 to Sep. 29, 2012, NASA's Solar Dynamic Observatory (SDO) moved into its semi-annual eclipse season, a time when Earth blocks the telescope's view of the sun for a period of time each day. Scientists choose orbits for solar telescopes to minimize eclipses as much as possible, but they are a fact of life — one that comes with a period of fuzzy imagery directly after the eclipse.

    The Helioseismic and Magnetic Imager (HMI) on SDO observes the sun through a glass window. The window can change shape in response to temperature changes, and does so dramatically and quickly when it doesn't directly feel the sun's heat.

    "You've got a piece of glass looking at the sun, and then suddenly it isn't," says Dean Pesnell, the project scientist for SDO at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. "The glass gets colder and flexes. It becomes like a lens. It's as if we put a set of eye glasses in front of the instrument, causing the observations to blur."

    To counteract this effect, HMI was built with heaters to warm the window during an eclipse. By adjusting the timing and temperature of the heater, the HMI team has learned the best procedures for improving resolution quickly. Without adjusting the HMI front window heaters, it takes about two hours to return to optimal observing.

    Over the two years since SDO launched in 2010, the team has brought the time it takes to get a clear image down from 60 minutes to around 45 to 50 minutes after an eclipse. "We allocated an hour for these more blurry images," says Pesnell. "And we've learned to do a lot better than that. With 45 eclipses a year, the team gets a lot of practice."

    SDO will enter its next eclipse season on March 3, 2013.

  • 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.

  • Active Region on the Sun Emits Another Flare
    2012.10.23
    The sun emitted a significant solar flare on Oct. 22, 2012, peaking at 11:17 p.m. EDT. The flare came from an active region on the left side of the sun that has been numbered AR 1598, which has already been the source of a number of weaker flares. This flare was classified as an X.1-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, and on. An X-class flare of this intensity can cause degradation or blackouts of radio communications for about an hour.

    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. This can disrupt radio signals for anywhere from minutes to hours.

    The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, which is the United States government's official source for space weather forecasts and alerts, categorized the radio blackout associated with this flare as an R3, on a scale from R1 to R5. It has since subsided.

    Increased numbers of flares are quite common at the moment, since the sun's normal 11-year activity cycle is ramping up toward solar maximum, which is expected in 2013. Humans have tracked this solar cycle continuously since it was discovered in 1843, and it is normal for there to be many flares a day during the sun's peak activity. The first X-class flare of the current solar cycle occurred on Feb. 15, 2011 and there have been 15 X-class flares total in this cycle, including this one. The largest X-class flare in this cycle was an X6.9 on Aug. 9, 2011. This is the 7th X-class flare in 2012 with the largest being an X5.4 flare on March 7.

    This flare did not have an associated Earth-directed coronal mass ejection (CME), another solar phenomenon that can send solar particles into space and affect electronic systems in satellites and on Earth.

    Watch this video on YouTube.

  • SDO Solar Comparison October 2010 to October 2012
    2012.11.26
    The sun goes through a natural solar cycle approximately every 11 years. The cycle is marked by the increase and decrease of sunspots — visible as dark blemishes on the sun's surface, or photosphere. The greatest number of sunspots in any given solar cycle is designated as "solar maximum." The lowest number is "solar minimum."

    The solar cycle provides more than just increased sunspots, however. In the sun's atmosphere, or corona, bright active regions appear, which are rooted in the lower sunspots. Scientists track the active regions since they are often the origin of eruptions on the sun such as solar flares or coronal mass ejections.

    The most recent solar minimum occurred in 2008, and the sun began to ramp up in January 2010, with an M-class flare (a flare that is 10 times less powerful than the largest flares, labeled X-class). The sun has continued to get more active, with the next solar maximum predicted for 2013.

    The journey toward solar maximum is evident in current images of the sun, showing a marked difference from those of 2010, with bright active regions dotted around the star.

2011

  • Sun Unleashes X6.9 Class Flare on August 9, 2011
    2011.08.09
    On August 9, 2011 at 3:48 a.m. EDT, the sun emitted an Earth-directed X6.9 flare, as measured by the NOAA GOES satellite. These gigantic bursts of radiation cannot pass through Earth's atmosphere to harm humans on the ground, however they can disrupt the atmosphere and disrupt GPS and communications signals. In this case, it appears the flare is strong enough to potentially cause some radio communication blackouts. It also produced increased solar energetic proton radiation — enough to affect humans in space if they do not protect themselves.

    As of March 2014, this flare is the largest of solar cycle 24.

  • SDO EVE Late Phase Flares
    2011.09.07
    Scientists have been seeing just the tip of the iceberg when monitoring flares with X-rays. With the complete extreme ultraviolet (EUV) coverage by the SDO EUV Variability Experiment (EVE), they have observed enhanced EUV radiation that appears not only during the X-ray flare, but also a second time delayed by many minutes after the X-ray flare peak. These delayed, second peaks are referred to as the EUV Late Phase contribution to flares.

    The solar EUV radiation creates our Earth's ionosphere (plasma in our atmosphere), so solar flares disturb our ionosphere and consequently our communication and navigation technologies, such as Global Positioning System (GPS), that transmit through the ionosphere. For over 30 years, scientists have relied on the GOES X-ray monitor to tell them when to expect disturbances to our ionosphere. With these new SDO EVE results, they now recognize that additional ionospheric disturbances from these later EUV enhancements are also a concern.

2010

  • SDO First Light Media
    2011.03.03
    A compilation of some of the videos and stills used during the SDO First Light press conference.

    There are more video and stills available.

  • SDO First Light High Resolution Stills
    2010.04.28
    Stills from the AIA instrument on SDO. They show the March 30, 2010 "First Light" prominence eruption captured just after the AIA sensors were activated. All images are from the ultraviolet part of the spectrum, specifically the wavelengths of 304, 211, 193, and 171 Ångstroms. The stills are in multiple resolutions and are available as tiff and jpeg files.
  • Lunar Transit from Solar Dynamics Observatory (2010)
    2013.06.12

    Just as we do on Earth, the Solar Dynamics Observatory satellite periodically crosses the Moon's shadow and experiences a solar eclipse. During the eclipse witnessed by SDO on October 7, 2010, the southern hemisphere of the Moon was silhouetted against the solar disk, revealing some especially prominent mountain peaks near the Moon's south pole. By using elevation data from Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter to visualize the Moon from SDO's point of view, it's possible to identify these peaks. Although all of these are well-known features, none of them have official names. The following list corresponds to the labels in the animation, from left to right.

    1. In his 1954 sketch of the lunar south pole, astronomer Ewen Whitaker labeled this feature "M3." It's a mountain about halfway between the craters Cabeus and Drygalski, at 83.2°S 68°W.
    2. Whitaker's "M1," a mountain on the northern rim of Cabeus, 83.4°S 33°W.
    3. A mountain on the southern rim of Malapert crater, about halfway between the centers of Malapert and Haworth. Whitaker labels this Malapert Alpha. It's also known as Mons Malapert or Malapert Peak. 85.8°S 0°E.
    4. Labeled Leibnitz Beta by Whitaker, this is part of the highlands adjacent to the northern rim of Nobile crater. 84°S 37°E. Part of the Leibnitz mountain range first identified by Johann Schröter in the late 1700s, unrelated to Leibnitz Crater on the lunar far side.
    5. A mountain near Amundsen crater, on the western (Earthward) rim of Hédervári crater, 82.2°S 75°E. Whitaker tentatively labels this Leibnitz Epsilon in his sketch.

    The Moon visualization uses the latest albedo and elevation maps from Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO).