The Sun as Art traveling exhibit presents a new way of looking at the sun as seen from space, based on images captured by NASA's premier solar mission, SDO (the Solar Dynamics Observatory). Steele Hill, SOHO/STEREO/SDO Media Specialist at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, created this gallery of stunning images. (All images provided to SPACE.com courtesy of Steele Hill.)
With this 3D effect, the sun really does seem to be floating in space, while the arcing loops above the brighter active regions can be seen rising up above the solar surface.
These seven images cascading around were all taken at almost the same time. Each one shows different features of the sun in different wavelengths of light at varying heights and temperatures.
Stonehenge in England is a mammoth stone and timber structure built 2700 years ago over hundreds of years. It is speculated that the builders oriented some of the structure to mark astronomical events like equinoxes.
If one were to observe the sun rising over a bayou or ocean in extreme ultraviolet light and apply a blue filter, it might look a little like this. The active sun is peppered with magnetic field lines and active regions busily connecting and reconnecting over its surface.
Though very orange-like in appearance, a "dopplergram" image of the sun measures millions of subtle motions on the sun's surface that helps us learn about movement and structure inside the sun. It takes supercomputers to handle the calculations.
When viewed in profile, the intricate series of looping magnetic field lines appear graceful and well designed. In fact these very hot and energetic connections emerged from beneath the surface where powerful magnetic forces are engaged in a huge tug of war.
The plain blue disk blocks out the sun and the area right around it. Areas of white indicate the greatest intensity of matter; the reds somewhat less; blues, even less. An extreme ultraviolet image of the sun (blue) was superimposed on the foreground to give a sense of scale.
These detailed and tight coils of particles spiraling along magnetic field lines above an active region look a lot like Slinky toys. However, solar physicists would explain that after a solar flare these loops are busily recreating new magnetic re-connections after the magnetic field was disrupted.
A single, gigantic prominence blossomed out from the sun on the first day that SDO began taking images. It reached out over 25 times the size of Earth. Prominences are unstable clouds of cooler gas tethered above the sun's surface by magnetic forces.
An extreme ultraviolet image of the sun itself was enlarged and superimposed on a larger background image. The background image from the SOHO spacecraft shows a widely spreading coronal mass ejection (CME) as it blasts more than a billion tons of matter out into space at over a million miles per hour.
There was something about the bright coronal mass ejection (cropped but un-retouched) in February 2002 that, when copied into a circular pattern, suggested the splash of color found in a flower petal.
Charged particles spiraling along magnetic field lines rise above several active regions, then were made to zoom out to the viewer. The field lines are in constant motion and often break apart and reconnect. The ionized material imaged here was heated to over one million degrees.
This Monet-like close-up of an erupting active region (brightest area) combines three color-coded wavelengths of extreme UV light.
It appears that these pairs of sunspots are peering out from the sun. Sunspots are a little cooler (7,000 degrees F.) and thus appear darker than the sun's surface (10,000 degrees F.). Notice how the surface looks dimpled everywhere you look: each of these granules is the top of a convection cell where hot fluid rises up, spreads out, then sinks back over about 20 minutes. Each granule is about 620 miles across.
By sheer coincidence several active regions seen in extreme UV light, without any re-arranging, aligned themselves to resemble a contemplative face.
A solar flare on August 9, 2011 overwhelmed the SDO imager with such strong light that it caused the brightness to spread out in broken lines above and below the flare site for just a few minutes.
Not a volcano really, but a spectacular solar blast of particles called a coronal mass ejection viewed in extreme UV light.
A close up of an active region in extreme UV light reveals tangles of loops and coils of arcs.
This close-up of a solar eruption seemed to lend itself to a modernistic approach with color tables. The original image combined three wavelengths in extreme UV light.
Prominences are huge clouds of relatively cool dense plasma suspended in the sun's hot, thin corona. At times, they can erupt out into space, propelled by magnetic forces from the Sun’s atmosphere. Ultraviolet emission in this wavelength (ions of helium at 304Å) shows the upper chromosphere (not far above the visible surface) at a temperature of about 100,000 degrees F. For a size comparison, the Earth would be no larger than your little fingertip.