A Fleet of Spacecraft Watch the Sun Erupt

The entire universe in blog form
May 8 2013 12:01 PM

A Different Angle on the Sun

SOHO + SDO view of the Sun
The Sun blows off little steam...or a few hundred million tons of plasma, as seen by SDO and SOHO. The bright "star" on the right is actually the planet Mars.

Photo by NASA/SDO/SOHO

I’ve written twice in the past few days about the Sun and its incredible power. In a funny coincidence, not long after I posted the beautiful pictures of the “quiet” Sun yesterday, the folks at NASA put out a very, very cool video showing a May 1, 2013 solar eruption as seen from three different spacecraft, showing how well they work together:

I love this! I tend to show images and videos from spacecraft that are isolated; that is, each comes from one observatory. But this video makes it clear why we have so many spacecraft observing the Sun. Solar Dynamics Observatory zooms in on the Sun’s disk, so we can see features on the surface. The Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) takes a wider view, displaying the Sun’s environment. In fact, SOHO has different detectors that show different zoom factors.

Advertisement

Working in cahoots, the two observatories can watch an eruptive prominence blast off the surface and expand into a coronal mass ejection (CME), flinging a billion tons of material into space.

Enter STEREO, a pair of spacecraft in an orbit that is taking them in opposite directions, headed for the far side of the Sun. They literally see this event from the other side, giving us a perspective that is impossible from Earth.

All three together provide a powerful view of our star. Given that it is the anchor of our solar system, the provider of all the light and heat we receive—and can, if it so chooses, blow off a huge flare or CME that could seriously affect our power grid and our satellites—I think studying it every way we can is A Good Idea.

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

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Don’t Worry, Obama Isn’t Sending U.S. Troops to Fight ISIS

But the next president might. 

The Extraordinary Amicus Brief That Attempts to Explain the Wu-Tang Clan to the Supreme Court Justices

Amazon Is Officially a Gadget Company. Here Are Its Six New Devices.

The Human Need to Find Connections in Everything

It’s the source of creativity and delusions. It can harm us more than it helps us.

How Much Should You Loathe NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell?

Here are the facts.

Altered State

The Plight of the Pre-Legalization Marijuana Offender

What should happen to weed users and dealers busted before the stuff was legal?

Surprise! The Women Hired to Fix the NFL Think the NFL Is Just Great.

You Shouldn’t Spank Anyone but Your Consensual Sex Partner

Moneybox
Sept. 17 2014 5:10 PM The Most Awkward Scenario in Which a Man Can Hold a Door for a Woman
  News & Politics
Altered State
Sept. 17 2014 11:51 PM The Plight of the Pre-Legalization Marijuana Offender What should happen to weed users and dealers busted before the stuff was legal?
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 17 2014 1:36 PM Nate Silver Versus Princeton Professor: Who Has the Right Models?
  Life
Outward
Sept. 17 2014 6:53 PM LGBTQ Luminaries Honored With MacArthur “Genius” Fellowships
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 17 2014 6:14 PM Today in Gender Gaps: Biking
  Slate Plus
Slate Fare
Sept. 17 2014 9:37 AM Is Slate Too Liberal?  A members-only open thread.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 17 2014 8:25 PM A New Song and Music Video From Angel Olsen, Indie’s Next Big Thing
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 17 2014 9:00 PM Amazon Is Now a Gadget Company
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 17 2014 11:48 PM Spanking Is Great for Sex Which is why it’s grotesque for parenting.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 17 2014 3:51 PM NFL Jerk Watch: Roger Goodell How much should you loathe the pro football commissioner?