Huge SDO Milestone

100 millionth image from SDO. Credit: SDO

100 millionth image from SDO. Credit: SDO

Almost hard to imagine, one hundred million images from the Solar Dynamics Laboratory!

Congraduations to the AIA team!

Yesterday, January 19, 2015, at 1749 UTC (12:49 pm ET) the AIA instrument recorded its 100,000,000th image. Here it is, an AIA 193 Å image showing coronal holes in both the northern and southern hemispheres. More information, including some favorite images from team members, is available at the NASA SDO webpage.
The AIA team at LMSAL worked hard to design and build the AIA telescopes, even overcoming a delayed start way back at the beginning of the SDO project. The team continues to operate the instrument, keeping it calibrated and listing the features seen on the Sun. The HMI JSOC team at Stanford University maintains the archive that serves the images to our large and growing number of users.

Impressive Flare

Sunspot group AR2257 produces a flare. Image Credit: NASA/SDO

Sunspot group AR2257 produces a flare. Image Credit: NASA/SDO

A beautiful shot of the Sun by the Solar Dynamics Observatory showing the rather impressive first flare of the new year. The flare was produced by the sunspot group AR2257.

I mentioned last week conditions seemed right for an aurora (from this sunspot group). While I didn’t see an aurora on that time out and an aurora is not likely from this particular flare any longer, I would expect to have other viewing opportunities over the next months as the solar cycle progresses. Flares can become more numerous as the solar cycle passes peak activity. We shall see.

This flare/sunspot group did produce a pulse of UV radiation  that ionized the upper atmosphere over Australia and the Indian Ocean. The ionization could have impacted HF radio frequencies below about 10 Mhz – being a ham operator these events are important.

Could this be the start of increased activity? Possibly and these things can happen quickly. You can be alerted when an aurora is apt to occur from a few sources. Two of my favorites is Aurora Service Europe based in Scandinavia and as always,

Here is the NASA caption released with the image:

The sun emitted a mid-level solar flare, peaking at 11:24 p.m. EST on Jan. 12, 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.

New Years Sun

The sun on 01 Jan 2015.  Image Credit: NASA/SDO

The sun on 01 Jan 2015. Image Credit: NASA/SDO

An image of the sun on 01 Jan taken by the Solar Dynamics Observatory. The image is dominated by a large coronal hole in the southern hemisphere.  As the sun rotates we should get an idea of the extent of the size.

NASA’s Dean Pesnell explains:

Coronal holes are regions of the corona where the magnetic field reaches out into space rather than looping back down onto the surface. Particles moving along those magnetic fields can leave the sun rather than being trapped near the surface. Those trapped particles can heat up and glow, giving us the lovely AIA images. In the parts of the corona where the particles leave the sun, the glow is much dimmer and the coronal hole looks dark.

Coronal holes were first seen in images taken by astronauts on board NASA’s Skylab space station in 1973 and 1974. They can be seen for a long time, although the exact shape changes all the time. The polar coronal hole can remain visible for five years or longer. Each time a coronal hole rotates by the Earth we can measure the particles flowing out of the hole as a high-speed stream, another source of space weather.

Charged particles in the Earth’s radiation belts are accelerated when the high-speed stream runs into the Earth’s magnetosphere. The acceleration of particles in the magnetosphere is studied by NASA’s Van Allen Probes mission.
As Solar Cycle 24 fades, the number of flares each day will get smaller, but the coronal holes provide another source of space weather that needs to be understood and predicted.

Giant Sunspot

A sunspot almost as big as Jupiter!  Credit: SDO/NASA.

A sunspot almost as big as Jupiter! Credit: SDO/NASA.

From the Solar Dynamics Observatory:

The largest sunspot of this solar cycle has now rotated around so that it is just about facing Earth. The video clip of filtered light images (Oct. 18-22, 2014) show this substantial active region is 125,000 km wide, almost as big as the planet Jupiter, and many times the size of Earth. The region appears to have the kind of unstable magnetic field that suggests it might well produce more solar storms. It has already blasted out three substantial flares and numerous smaller ones. Sunspots are darker, cooler regions of the sun with intense magnetic fields poking out through the surface. Credit: SDO/NASA.

Here’s a close up of the sunspot.

Plasma Blob

Part of a CME from the sun.  Credit: SDO / NASA

Part of a CME from the sun. Credit: SDO / NASA

On 26 September there was a coronal mass ejection from the Sun. The Solar Dynamic Observatory captured a “twisted blob” of ionized Helium at 60,000 oC.

The image was taken in the extreme UV light to show amazing detail and it is the SDO image of the week.

Here is a link to a video from the SDO site. The link goes to the small version of the video, I liked it best. Other versions are available at the SDO site.

A Golden Arc

A golden arc made by a plasma plume on the Sun. Credit: Solar Dynamics Observatory/NASA.

A golden arc made by a plasma plume on the Sun. Credit: Solar Dynamics Observatory/NASA.

The Solar Dynamics Observatory gives this beautiful look at a plume of plasma. This plume is huge, going presumably to another active region out of view on the horizon. Seeing a plume traveling this distance is something of a rarity.

The observation was made in the ultraviolet- 171 Angstroms – on 17-19 Sept 2014.

The was the Pick of the Week at the SDO site and I can recommend the movies of this plume, really good.

SDO Sees a Lunar Transit

Very nice! Little wonder this was on NASA’s Image of the Day below is the caption from that page if you’re in a hurry:

On July 26, 2014, from 10:57 a.m. to 11:42 a.m. EDT, the moon crossed between NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) and the sun, a phenomenon called a lunar transit. A lunar transit happens approximately twice a year, causing a partial solar eclipse that can only be seen from SDO’s point of view. Images of the eclipse show a crisp lunar horizon, because the moon has no atmosphere that would distort light. This image shows the blended result of two SDO wavelengths – one in 304 wavelength and another in 171 wavelength.

Image Credit: NASA/SDO

Coronal Hole


It doesn’t appear the solar wind coming from this coronal hole is going to be of any concern to us..

The image makes for an interesting desktop, get yours at the NASA website.

Here’s the scoop from NASA:

A coronal hole, almost square in its shape, is one of the most noticeable features on the Sun of late (May 5-7, 2014). A coronal hole is an area where high-speed solar wind streams into space. It appears dark in extreme ultraviolet light as there is less material to emit in these wavelengths. Inside the coronal hole you can see bright loops where the hot plasma outlines little pieces of the solar magnetic field sticking above the surface. Because it is positioned so far south on the Sun, there is less chance that the solar wind stream will impact us here on Earth.

Plasma Eruption

Plasma strands appear similar to a dark cloud. Click for larger. Credit: Solar Dynamics Observatory/NASA

Plasma strands appear similar to a dark cloud. Click for larger. Credit: Solar Dynamics Observatory/NASA

The dark cloud looks a bit like a tornado, it’s really plasma about the leave the sun, the dark color is due to the somewhat cooler temperature than the surrounding features.

There are videos at the SDO site and a YouTube version. Definitely worth the look!

From the SDO site:

A small, hovering mass of twisted strands of plasma shifted back and forth before erupting into space (Apr. 29-30, 2014) over a period of just one day. The plasma appears darker only because it is somewhat cooler than the surrounding material when viewed in extreme ultraviolet light. The suspended plasma is being pulled and stretched by competing magnetic forces until something triggers the breakaway. This kind of activity is fairly common on the Sun, but we have only been able to view them at this level of detail since SDO began operations just four years ago. The still image was taken at 20:20 UT on Apr. 29.

Solar Flare

An Solar Dynamics Observatory video (coming to us from NASA/Goddard of an M 6.5 solar flare. Not quite the strongest of flare classes but still pretty strong and had it been directed at Earth it certainly could have given us an aurora.

I doubt we will see any auroral activity from this event, however, a flare could re-occur from the area so one never knows for sure. Keep an eye to the sky, also these strong earthquakes can disrupt the geomagnetic field enough to cause an auroral event. Generally at my latitude these types are almost ghostlike.

One other noteworthy observation about this flare is it’s a mid-level flare. Generally when I see these mid-latitude sunspots and flares I know the peak of the solar cycle isn’t too far away.

Video source