Solar Dynamics Observatory captures 100 millionth image of the sun

Chuck Bednar for – Your Universe Online

Mom may have told you not to look directly at the sun, but it’ll do more damage to not look at the above photo.

Nearly five years after first launching, NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) surpassed the 100 millionth image of the sun on Monday, the US space agency announced.

SDO was developed at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland and blasted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on February 10, 2010. It uses its Atmospheric Imaging Assembly (AIA) and other instruments to transmit 1.5 terabytes of data each day.

AIA uses four telescopes working parallel to gather eight images of the sun, cycling through 10 different wavelengths every 12 seconds. It is responsible for nearly half of the observatory’s total data output, capturing 57,600 detailed images of the sun every day, according to NASA.

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,” they added.

Images through the years

To commemorate the spacecraft’s 100 millionth image, SDO project scientist Dean Pesnell of Goddard and AIA principle investigator Karel Schrijver of Lockheed Martin combed through the immense amount of images captured by its instruments to pick out their favorites.

Among those selected include an image of a spectacular eruption that lifted a tremendous amount of cool, dark material into the sun’s corona in June 2011, and one from October 2014 that depicts the largest sunspot in five years.

In December 2011, SDO captured images of Comet Lovejoy’s tail as it travelled around the sun, marking the first time that an image of a comet traveling so low in the atmosphere was captured. That photo provided “a glimpse of how a comet loses material in the intense heat of the sun” and “a visible tracer of the magnetic field lines looping through the sun’s corona,” NASA said.

Other photos in the “top ten” included a moderate-sized solar flare that occurred near the edge of the sun in February 2011, a December 2010 photo in which the sun’s feature resembled a human face, and a rare transit of Venus observed and captured by AIA in June 2012.

So what was the 100 millionth image? In a Tuesday blog post, Pesnell said that it was an “image showing coronal holes in both the northern and southern hemispheres,” known as AIA 193.

In addition, NASA officials compiled a mosaic of the 100 millionth image captured by SDO. The mosaic was created using previous AIA images. Each the tiles is 50 pixels across and depicts extreme ultraviolet light with a wavelength of 193 angstroms.

“The AIA team… worked hard to design and build the AIA telescopes, even overcoming a delayed start way back at the beginning of the SDO project,” he added. “The team continues to operate the instrument, keeping it calibrated and listing the features seen on the Sun.”


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