In June of 2009, a rare total solar eclipse blanketed certain portions of the planet in total darkness. Czech photographer Miloslav Druckmüller traveled to the middle of the Pacific ocean to the Marshall Islands to capture the incredible event.
To create the photos above, he compiled over 40 images shot from two different cameras.
The sun celebrated May Day with a spectacular solar eruption Wednesday, unleashing a colossal wave of super-hot plasma captured on camera by a NASA spacecraft.
The solar eruption occurred over a 2.5-hour period Wednesday (May 1) and appeared as a “gigantic rolling wave” on the sun in a video recorded by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, agency officials said in an image description. The solar eruption is what scientists call a coronal mass ejection (CME) — a type of sun storm that can fire off billions of tons of solar material at more than a million miles per hour, they added.
When aimed directly at Earth, the most powerful CME events can pose a risk to satellites and astronauts in orbit, as well as interfere with communications and navigation networks. They can even damage ground-based power infrastructure.
But the May Day solar eruption occurred on the side of the sun and was not aimed at Earth, NASA officials said. It produced a dazzlingly bright wave of plasma that expanded from the sun’s surface and then erupted from the sun’s side, or limb, into open space.
The sun is currently in an active phase of its 11-year solar weather cycle and is expected to reach its peak activity this year.
NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory is one of several sun-watching spacecraft that keeps constant watch on Earth’s nearest star to track solar weather patterns and storm events. The $850 million SDO mission launched in 2010 and records constant high-definition views of the sun in several different wavelengths, including the extreme ultraviolet range of the light spectrum used to make the video of the May 1 solar eruption.
I have long been fascinated by gamma-ray bursts (or GRBs). These are incredibly violent events: It’s like taking the Sun’s entire lifetime energy output and cramming into a single event that lasts for mere seconds! The energy emitted is so intense, so bright, we can see GRBs from a distance of billions of light years.
Gamma rays themselves are just a form of light, like the kind we see, but with huge energy; each photon is packed with millions or billions of times the energy in a single photon of visible light. Only the most energetic events in the Universe can make them, so if we detect a burst of them coming from the sky, we know something literally disastrous has happened.
But astronomers were recently surprised to find a third type of GRB, one that lasts not for minutes, but for hours. Whatever these objects are, they don’t just flash with light, they linger, blasting out far, far more gamma rays for far, far longer than was previously thought. What could do such a thing?…
A powerful coronal mass ejection (CME) erupted from the Sun
January 8, 2012
The broad front of the particle cloud had already expanded to about 120 degrees when this image was taken. Here the Sun itself has been enlarged about 50% and superimposed on the background image to cover the coronagraph’s occulting disk. The occulting disk blocks out the Sun’s bright light so that the fainter structures in the corona can be observed. Both images are from NASA’s STEREO (Ahead) spacecraft.
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, causing aurora to appear on the night of Monday, September 3. Pictured here is a lighten blended version of the 304 and 171 angstrom wavelengths.
Something unexpected is happening on the Sun. 2013 was supposed to be the year of “solar maximum,” the peak of the 11-year sunspot cycle. Yet 2013 has arrived and solar activity is relatively low. Sunspot numbers are well below their values from 2011, and strong solar flares have been infrequent.
The image above shows the Earth-facing surface of the Sun on February 28, 2013, as observed by one of my instruments, the Helioseismic and Magnetic Imager (HMI).
HMI observes the solar disk at 6173 Ångstroms, a wavelength designed to study surface oscillations and the magnetic field. HMI observed just a few small sunspots on an otherwise clean face, which is usually riddled with many spots during peak solar activity.
Solar physicist Dean Pesnell of NASA Goddard Space Flight Center has a different explanation. “This is solar maximum,” he says. “But it looks different from what we expected because it is double-peaked.”…
How Do Aurorae (Northern and Southern Lights) Occur?
As solar particles from an incoming Coronal Mass Ejection (or CME) move into Earth’s magnetosphere they travel around to its back side — or night side, since it is on the opposite side from the Sun — along the magnetic field lines.
When these magnetic field lines reconnect in an area known as the magnetotail, energy is released and it sends the particles down onto Earth’s poles, and sometimes even lower latitudes. As the particles bombard oxygen and nitrogen in the upper atmosphere, the atoms release a photon of light that we see as the beautiful colors of the aurora.
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 Goddard 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…
NASA | 1st Sightings of How a Coronal Mass Ejection Forms
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…
The public is invited to a free event on Feb. 13 to experience “Our Eruptive Sun: The Causes and Consequences of Space Weather,” by Dr. Phillip Chamberlin, research astrophysicist in the Solar Physics Laboratory at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, in Greenbelt, Md.
The sun was once thought to be a very stable source of energy to Earth. In fact, scientists even referred to the sun’s light output as the “solar constant.” More than 400 years ago, Galileo Galilei was one of the first to observe that the surface of the sun actually had dark sunspots that would appear and disappear, one of the first signs that the sun may not be so constant after all. Generations of solar scientists have studied the sun and witnessed the very large variations on all time scales, from seconds to centuries…
Dragon-tail Filament Eruption on the Sun, Jan. 31, 2013.
The entire event lasted for approx. 4 hours. This video shows a variety of views of the break-up of this structure.
Filaments are anchored to the Sun’s surface in the photosphere, and extend outwards into the Sun’s hot outer atmosphere, called the corona. A filament forms over timescales of about a day, and stable filaments may persist in the corona for several months, looping hundreds of thousands of miles into space.
Some of the plasma was released into space but not all could escape the gravitational pull of the Sun. It’s not surprising that plasma should fall back to the Sun. After all, the Sun’s gravity is powerful.
One beautiful feature we are seeing coming over the northeastern limb of the Sun is this large filament. It stretches approx. 93,000 miles (150,000 km) from end to end. For comparison - the average distance from Earth to the Moon is 239,000 miles (384,000 km).
So far the massive structure has hovered quietly above the stellar surface, but could break and send pieces of itself into Space. This image here is in extreme UV; a three wavelength composite showing us different parts of the solar corona.
The 304 angstroms Extreme Ultraviolet view shows up the upper chromosphere and lower transition region and is especially good at showing areas where cooler dense plumes of plasma (filaments and prominences) are located above the visible surface of the Sun.