It’s hard to imagine what 20 million gigabytes of data look like, and it’s all the more difficult to picture it as a decade worth of photos of the sun.
NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) snapped 425 million high-resolution images of the star over a 10-year period. The project resulted in countless discoveries regarding the star we orbit and how it influences our solar system.
Using various tools, NASA captured a photo every 0.75 seconds over the decade-long duration. One of the instruments used was an Atmospheric Imaging Assembly (AIA) tool that can capture images every 12 seconds at 10 different wavelengths of light.
SDO selected an image from every hour and compiled them into a 61-minute video. The curated photos were taken with the AIA at a wavelength of 17.1 nanometers. This extreme ultraviolet wavelength makes the sun’s corona, or its outermost atmospheric layer, visible.
While it mostly looks like a rotating, neon yellow, CGI orb, what the video actually reveals is the rise and fall of activity that occurs over the sun’s solar cycle. The 11-year cycle includes events like planetary transits and eruptions.
NASA provided a list of timestamps that indicate these ephemeral moments. For example, at the 12:24 mark, taken on June 5, 2012, Venus transits across the face of the Sun. An event that won’t happen again until 2117.
You’ll also notice that some of the frames go dark, these frames signify eclipses from the Earth and moon. However, there’s a longer blackout from 2016 caused by a malfunction with the AIA instrument.
SDO and other NASA teams will continue watching the sun for the years to come. The information collected is used to keep astronauts and assets in space safe.
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