No doubt your mother told you to not stare at the sun, but the folks at NASA didn’t really heed that advice. Exactly 20 years ago today, they launched the Solar & Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) to do just that.
In that time, the orbiting spacecraft and its 12 sun-spotting instruments have provided the space agency with a wealth of information about our nearest and dearest star.
A video released on Tuesday by NASA details some of the brilliant observations from SOHO, including an opening scene that shows what looks like flying saucers zipping around our sun. But before UFO conspiracy theorists pipe up, those light blobs are actually just the planets from our own solar system going about their elliptical orbits.
“Because they’re so bright,” says Joe Gurman, a NASA heliophysicist and narrator of the video, “they overwhelm the detector in the electronics taking this image.” That creates the long lines extending outward from their centers.
While the video doesn’t show visitors from another galaxy, the unique perspective provided by SOHO’s coronagraph — which blocks the brightest part of the sun — does nicely show how Earth and its fellow chunks of rocks and gas orbit the sun on very close horizontal planes.
Another highlight of the video shows dramatic solar flares from 2013 first seen through SOHO’s extreme ultraviolet telescope and then through its coronagraph. In the second case, when the flares get extremely active, the video looks almost like it’s on the fritz. “You also see what looks like snow on the windshield of a car driving through a snowstorm,” Gurman says. “And that’s energetic particles, accelerated by the solar activity hitting the detectors on the SOHO spacecraft.”
There are also extraordinary images of sun-grazing comets (SOHO has seen over 3,000 of them); an explosive wave from the lower part of the corona; a complete solar rotation of approximately 28 days; and a few other dazzling images.
Have a watch of the video above. You’ll never look at the sun that same way again. Figuratively speaking, of course.
Spectacular sun images heat up the heavens…