In its fourth year in orbit, NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory has brought us front row center to a show filled with radiant bursts and dark mysteries.
SDO captures images of the sun in 10 different wavelengths, highlighting a range of surface temperatures. These show specific structures…. such as solar flares — giant explosions of light and x-rays — and coronal loops — streams of solar material that travel up and down looping magnetic field lines. These field lines can launch prominence eruptions, when masses of solar material blast off the surface of the sun, often falling back in vast torrents of fire.
Eruptions like these are often associated with dark cool regions called sunspots… below which tangled magnetic fields cause the energy to build to extremes.
One of the largest sunspot clusters in recent years appeared in January 2014. It was a prelude to a powerful X-class flare.
The sun is a complex electromagnetic system, powered by energy generated deep in its core. Scientists study these images because solar eruptions can pose a danger to spacecraft and power systems on Earth, and because they reveal the inner moods of countless stars that live, evolve, and finally die, all across the stage of time and space.