Solar Cinco de Mayo

The entire universe in blog form
May 8 2012 10:25 AM

Solar Cinco de Mayo

Alan Friedman is a photographer who takes amazing pictures of the Sun. While others were out celebrating Cinco de Mayo this past weekend, he was outside taking another jaw-dropping image of the nearest star in the Universe:

Phil Plait Phil Plait

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  

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Yegads! Click to ensolarnate, and he has a greyscale version, too.

I love the detail and texture of his images. He has an excellent telescopic setup which yields the superb resolution, and he employs an old trick to get the texture: he inverts the image of the Sun's disk, making black stuff look white and vice-versa. This is a technique that's been used by astronomers for decades to enhance images; our eyes see details better that way. When Alan does it, I swear it makes the Sun look like a 1.4 million-kilometer-wide shag rug.

All the way on the left, just on the Sun's edge, you can see a group of sunspots just rotating into view. That's Active Region 1476, and Alan provided me with a clear picture of them (no tom-foolery) which I've put here. That monster group is about 100,000 kilometers (60,000 miles) across, so when I saw them I immediately suspected trouble.

… and sure enough, they had a medium-sized eruption just this morning. At 13:00 UTC they blasted off an M1.4 class flare; big enough to potentially cause some radio disruption and maybe some aurorae. NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory got a dramatic view of the eruption:


Flares this size are relatively common; there was one in late March for example. Bigger ones happen less frequently, though again we did see one 50 times this powerful in March as well! We'll have to see if today's eruption will cause any aurorae, and either way, we should keep our eyes on AR1476.

Image credit: Alan Friedman, used by permission. Tip o' the Sun visor to Camilla Corona SDO on Google+ for the video.



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