NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) has observed an incredible whip-like filament extending high above the sun’s surface. Pictured below, the filament measures one half million miles long. To put that in perspective, the earth’s circumference at the equator is approximately 25,000 miles.
A solar filament is tethered to the sun’s photosphere and jets out towards the corona. It is a cooler material and thus the contrast can be observed. Below, you can see a video from NASA’s SDO which shows the incredible phenomenon.
The Solar Dynamics Observatory was launched back in February of 2010. Since the time of its launch, the SDO has brought back stunning video and photos of never seen before views of our Sun. According to NASA the purpose of the SDO is as follows:
The Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) will be taking a closer look at the Sun, the source of all Space Weather. Space Weather affects not only our lives here on Earth, but the Earth itself, and everything outside its atmosphere (astronauts and satellites out in space and even the other planets).
Space weather is a serious issue for astronauts and satellite developers. Because we enjoy the benefits of being surrounded by Earth’s atmosphere, we only have to worry about little things sunburns and using sunscreen. Outside the confines of our atmosphere though is a much larger danger. Extreme radiation coming from the Sun’s surface can be perilous to our astronauts, so getting a better understanding of this is critical for their safety. Communications satellites are not exempt from solar related problems either.
NASA captured stunning images of the sun’s corona, the million degree atmosphere surrounding the sun, from a 16 megapixel telescope called the HI-C. The telescope was launched on a sub-orbital rocket from White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. The mission only lasted 620 seconds, but the results were pretty impressive. NASA was able to capture the highest ever resolution images of the sun’s corona using the extreme ultraviolet wavelength. This wavelength of light is optimal for viewing the hot solar corona.
The mission’s purpose was to capture the images of the sun’s corona to determine how coronal activity affects the earth’s atmosphere. According to a NASA press release, Jonathan Cirtain, senior heliophysicist at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala said,”we have an exceptional instrument and launched at the right time…because of the intense solar activity we’re seeing right now, we were able to clearly focus on a sizeable, active sunspot and achieve our imaging goals.”
The High Resolution Coronal Imager (HI-C) was able to capture images that were 5 times more detailed than any previously taken. The mirrors used in the telescope’s optics array are being credited for the incredible footage. Initially developed at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, the final mirror configuration was a joint effort between Smithsonian’s Astrophysical Observatory (SAO) in Cambridge, Mass, Marshall Space Flight Center, and the University of Alabama in Huntsville.
Below, you can see a very short video released by NASA showing the detailed images of the solar corona.
NASA’s suborbital sounding rockets are proving to be a lower cost, yet effective means for exploring space. It will be interesting to see what other new information can be gathered using the HI-C telescope. For more information on NASA’s solar missions, visit http://www.nasa.gov/sdo.