NASA releases stunning five-year time lapse of the sun

Michael Walsh

NASA released a spectacular five-year time lapse of the sun on Wednesday to celebrate the fifth anniversary of the launch of the Solar Dynamics Observatory.

The observatory, or SDO, aims to improve our understanding of the sun’s energy and its effects on Earth and near-Earth space.

For this footage, the team captured one frame of the sun every eight hours from June 2010 to Feb. 8, 2015.

“The images that have all the pretty loops and arches are extremely hot material,” physicist Dean Pesnell said in an interview with Yahoo News. “We would like to understand where all those arches come from. They are filled with things that are about 2 million degrees. The sun itself is just about 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit.”

Pesnell, project scientist for SDO at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., said the different colors represent various temperatures.

Throughout the video, the wavelengths are presented in isolation or blended together with others.

SDO was launched aboard an Atlas V rocket at 10:23 a.m. on Feb. 11, 2010, from Florida, while its team was watching from Greenbelt, Md. The launch was scheduled for Feb. 10, but NASA decided to push it back one day, due to intense winds.

After weeks of moving toward the appropriate orbit, the observatory opened its doors to capture images of the sun.

“It’s in geosynchronous orbit around the Earth,” Pesnell said. “It loops up and down from the North to the Southern Hemisphere every day.”

SDO is flying with three instruments: the Atmospheric Imaging Assembly (AIA), the Extreme Ultraviolet Variability Experiment (EVE) and the Helioseismic and Magnetic Imager (HMI).

Each of these performs different measurements, to better understand the causes of solar variability and how it affects our planet.

By observing the sun with extreme ultraviolet light, ultraviolet light and visible light, scientists can better understand why the sun's magnetic fields are always moving, and how material passes through the corona (the plasma surrounding the sun).

“It’s been a great success,” Pesnell said. “We had a couple thousand scientific papers come out describing SDO data. For the first five years, we’ve seen things we never expected to see.”