NASA captures the Sun in its new solar room


Solarium, an exciting new permanent exhibit, opens today in Greenbelt, Maryland, dedicated to the high resolution imaging of the Sun captured by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO).

The SDO spacecraft has been imaging the Sun for five years. It watches ultraviolet light invisible to the naked eye to track how material dances through the solar atmosphere. It takes a picture almost once a second – faster than any other solar imaging system – and of amazing quality. Each image is eight times higher resolution than an HD TV.

NASA describes Solarium as video art – and the images are mesmerising and beautiful.

The Sun’s atmosphere dances. Giant loops swell up over the surface. Waves sweep through. Eruptions of material five, 10, 50 times the size of Earth explode out into space.

But there is also some serious science behind it.

Scientists use SDO to trace how material courses through the layers of the solar atmosphere, the corona, powering gigantic burst of x-rays called solar flares and eruptions of solar particles that swirl upward and fall back down — or sometimes escape the sun’s gravity altogether, surging out into space. The observatory records the solar images as a binary code, ones and zeros, which computer programs can translate into black-and-white pictures. Scientists colorize the images for realism, and then zoom in on areas of interest.

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