We`ve Got Sol

May 28, 2010

Rheanna Sand

Science in Seconds Blog by Rheanna Sand


Except for maybe our oceans, the sun is probably the thing we humans take most for granted. Every day, the sun is there, providing enough light and heat to support all the life on Earth AND help keep the cast of Jersey Shore well bronzed. But do we ever stop to think that the sun is a complex, fiery giant who needs to be adored once in a while? And how exactly do we adore something that will burn our retinas?

That's where NASA comes in. They've had an eye on our closest star, Sol, for some time. In 1995, along with the ESA, they launched SOHO, the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory. This two-module, unmanned spacecraft the size of a minivan is currently orbiting a million and a half kilometres from Earth. From its unobstructed viewpoint, SOHO has captured valuable images at different wavelengths of light to reveal events happening at different temperatures. They've even created a cross-fader that takes you through the images from different wavelengths... I suggest putting on some Pink Floyd before playing with this gem.


In April of this year, however, the first images from the newly launched Solar Dynamics Observatory were released to the public. Watching the breathtaking video of the surface photosphere and surrounding corona, never before has the sun seemed so real. We've all learned about how fusion powers it, how the outer convective layer circulates and churns, releasing flares and solar wind, and how those charged particles eventually reach us and wreak havoc on communication systems while simultaneously creating the most beautiful of all sky phenomena, the aurora.

But you've never really appreciated the sun until you've witnessed these videos and images. The fluid motion of the plasma, the waves of heat and light emanating like fractals, and the explosive nature of so-called "small" events reverberating across the surface - all will leave you wide-eyed, humbled, and if you took my "Pink Floyd" suggestion, maybe a little thirsty and munchy.

So, please, take some time to adore your Sol today. It's the only one you've got. And it's absolutely stunning.



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