A Decade of the Sun

Ten years of the Sun in 61 beautiful minutes.

As of June 2020, NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) has been watching the Sun non-stop for over a full decade. From its orbit in space around the Earth, SDO has gathered 425 million high-resolution images of the Sun, amassing 20 million gigabytes of data. With a triad of instruments, the SDO captures an image of the Sun every 0.75 seconds. The Atmospheric Imaging Assembly (AIA) instrument alone captures images every 12 seconds at 10 different wavelengths of light.

This 10-year time lapse showcases photos taken at a wavelength of 17.1 nanometers, which is an extreme ultraviolet wavelength that shows the Sun’s outermost atmospheric layer - the corona. Compiling one photo every hour, the movie condenses a decade of the Sun into 61 minutes. The video shows the rise and fall in activity that occurs as part of the Sun’s 11-year solar cycle, and notable events like transiting planets and eruptions.

While SDO has kept an unblinking eye pointed towards the Sun, there have been a few moments it missed. The dark frames in the video are caused by Earth or the Moon eclipsing SDO as they pass between the spacecraft and the Sun. A longer blackout in 2016 was caused by a temporary issue with the AIA instrument that was successfully resolved after a week. The images where the Sun is off-center were observed when SDO was calibrating its instruments.

SDO and other NASA missions will continue to watch our Sun in the years to come, providing further insights about our place in space.

Some noteworthy events appear briefly in this time lapse:

  • June 7, 2011: A massive prominence eruption explodes from the lower right of the Sun.
  • June 5, 2012: The transit of Venus across the face of the Sun. Won’t happen again until 2117.
  • August 31, 2012: The most iconic eruption of this solar cycle bursts from the lower left of the Sun.
  • May 9, 2016: Mercury transits across the face of the Sun. Smaller and more distant than Venus it is hard to spot.
  • September 6, 2017: The most powerful sequence of flares during this solar cycle crackle for several days, peaking at X9.3.
  • November 11, 2019: Mercury transits the Sun once more for SDO. The next transit won’t be until 2032.

The custom music, titled Solar Observer, was composed by musician Lars Leonhard.


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