See how the sun looked over the past decade

NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory

It is dangerous to look directly at the Sun. However, NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory has been watching the Sun non-stop for over a full decade.

From its orbit in space around Earth, NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory has gathered 425 million high-resolution images of the Sun, amassing 20 million gigabytes of data over the past 10 years. The Sun is beautiful and it sustains life on earth.

“This information has enabled countless new discoveries about the workings of our closest star and how it influences the solar system,” NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Centre said in a statement.

With a triad of instruments, NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory 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 video 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.

NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Centre has kindly pointed to some noteworthy events on the 61 minute-long video showcasing the Sun’s 11-year solar cycle with its rise and fall in activity.

  • 6:20: June 7, 2011. A massive prominence eruption explodes from the lower right of the Sun.
  • 12:24: June 5, 2012. The transit of Venus across the face of the Sun. This will not happen again until 2117.
  • 13:06: July 19, 2012. A complex loop of magnetic fields and plasma forms and lasts for hours.
  • 13:50: August 31, 2012. The most iconic eruption of this solar cycle bursts from the lower left of the Sun.
  • 20:25: September 29, 2013. A prominence eruption forms a long ‘canyon’ that is then covered with loops of plasma.
  • 26:39: October 8, 2014. Active regions on the Sun resemble a jack o’ lantern just in time for Halloween.
  • 36:18: May 9, 2016. Mercury transits across the face of the Sun. Smaller and more distant than Venus it is hard to spot.
  • 43:20: July 5, 2017. A large sunspot group spends two weeks crossing the face of the Sun.
  • 44:20: September 6, 2017. The most powerful sequence of flares during this solar cycle crackle for several days, peaking at X9.3.
  • 57:38 November 11, 2019. Mercury transits the Sun once more for SDO. The next transit won’t be until 2032.

NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory 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 the Solar Dynamics Observatory 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-centre were observed when the Solar Dynamics Observatory was calibrating its instruments.

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