Explore the Sun with Helioviewer

As you might have seen elsewhere, there was a spectacular solar flare on June 7 caught on camera by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO). Unusually for such a powerful event, the ejected material fell back onto the surface of the Sun, rather than into space, resulting in a dramatic rainfall-like effect:

The SDO records 1 terrabyte of imagery showing changes on the Sun’s surface every day. To make it accessible to the wider public, NASA and the European Space agency have put together Helioviewer – a simple to use, online application which lets you lets you browse current and archived images from the SDO and the older SoHO spacecraft.

Just like Google maps you can pan around and zoom-in for detailled close-ups. For instance here’s a link to imagery of the June 7 prominence. Through the drop down menus you can switch the visualization to different wavelengths of light, even blend several different layers together.


Just recently new features were added to make it possible to view image sequences as high-definition time-lapse movies and upload these to Youtube. I used it to create the video above,  switching the time and date to 07:30 on June 7 2011,   then selected the ‘Movie’ -> ‘Viewport’ option to pick an area to capture.

By default, movie duration is 3 hours but you can alter it to cover a longer period. Takes a few minutes for the application to  prepare the videos – even longer when lots of people are trying to use it,   but the results are pretty incredible.

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