Fiery Looping Rain on the surface of the Sun, captured by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory.
Eruptive events on the sun can be wildly different. Some come just with a solar flare, some with an additional ejection of solar material called a coronal mass ejection (CME), and some with complex moving structures in association with changes in magnetic field lines that loop up into the sun’s atmosphere, the corona.
On July 19, 2012, an eruption occurred on the sun that produced all three. A moderately powerful solar flare exploded on the sun’s lower right hand limb, sending out light and radiation. Next came a CME, which shot off to the right out into space. And then, the sun treated viewers to one of its dazzling magnetic displays – a phenomenon known as coronal rain.
Over the course of the next day, hot plasma in the corona cooled and condensed along strong magnetic fields in the region. Magnetic fields, themselves, are invisible, but the charged plasma is forced to move along the lines, showing up brightly in the extreme ultraviolet wavelength of 304 Angstroms, which highlights material at a temperature of about 50,000 Kelvin. This plasma acts as a tracer, helping scientists watch the dance of magnetic fields on the sun, outlining the fields as it slowly falls back to the solar surface.
The footage in this video was collected by the Solar Dynamics Observatory’s AIA instrument. SDO collected one frame every 12 seconds, and the movie plays at 30 frames per second, so each second in this video corresponds to 6 minutes of real time. The video covers 12:30 a.m. EDT to 10:00 p.m. EDT on July 19, 2012.
Sunday marks the 52nd anniversary of the first American in space. On May 5th, 1961, Alan Shepard Jr. became the first NASA astronaut to be launched into outer space aboard the Freedom 7 spacecraft.
Launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla., Shepard was rocketed to an altitude of 116.5 miles. Shepard tested out altitude controls for five minutes and then parachuted to safety into the Atlantic Ocean. The entire trip lasted 15 minutes and 28 seconds, but gave the space program the confidence that they could continue to advance further missions and orbits.
You can share this special anniversary with your kids by visiting NASA’s Space Place, where they can learn about Alan Shepard, astronauts, outer space and more.
In March 2013, the Comet PanSTARRS became visible to the naked eye in the night sky in the Northern Hemisphere. In space, NASA’s STEREO (Solar TErrestrial RElations Observatory) captured an even better view.
This movie, captured by the STEREO-B spacecraft, shows the comet and its fluttering tail as it moves through space. The stationary planet on the right is Earth, and the moving planet on the left is Mercury.
If you’re looking for life on other worlds, a good place to start would be finding planets that are similar to Earth. Earth’s orbit around our star, the Sun, keeps us within a “habitable zone” that allows water to stay liquid, a key life ingredient.
If our orbit were too close, Earth would be too hot and water would boil away. If our orbit was too far from the sun, our water would freeze.
Earth is also just the right size. If a planet is too big, it’s likely become a gaseous giant like Jupiter. If it’s too small, it wouldn’t have the gravity necessary to hold an atmosphere close to it. An atmosphere is necessary to trap some of the heat we get from our just-the-right-distance-away star.
These are some of the factors that astronomers use when when scouring the universe for habitable planets. Unfortunately, the distances to other solar systems from Earth makes finding just-right “Goldilocks” planets like these a real challenge. In addition, little planets are much harder than big, bright stars to see in the darkness of space.
Recently, NASA scientists have used the Kepler spacecraft, a special telescope in orbit around the Sun, to discover habitable zone planets that are similar in size to Earth in two different solar systems. A few other habitable zone planets have been found before, but these are the smallest yet. Scientists don’t know if these planets are actually capable of supporting life, but these discoveries are a step towards identifying actual Earth-like planets.
Kepler discovers planets in other solar systems by pointing at one area in space for a long time and measuring the brightness of stars. Kepler watches to see if the stars temporarily dim, which is a sign that a planet is passing in front of the stars and blocking some of the light. Using a calculation that includes how much the starlight dimmed and how long it dimmed for, scientists are able to determine the mass of the planet and the size of its orbit.
NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory has had virtually unbroken coverage of the sun’s rise toward solar maximum, the peak of solar activity in its regular 11-year cycle. This video shows those three years of the sun at a pace of two images per day.
These noteworthy events appear at the following times in the video:
00:30;24 Partial eclipse by the moon
00:31;16 Roll maneuver
01:11;02 August 9, 2011 X6.9 Flare, currently the largest of this solar cycle