Image: The abstract science of the dynamic Sun

Jan 14, 2014
Credit: ESA/NASA/SOHO/The SUMER team, Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, Katlenburg-Lindau, Germany

The placid appearance of the Sun's surface belies a hot fireball of plasma in constant turmoil. A granular network invisible to the naked eye pervades the solar disc, with cells of hotter and colder plasma popping up, merging and disappearing within only a few hours.

The boundaries between these constantly moving cells are hectic places. Powerful jets of plasma are often launched along the separation lines whenever the cell pattern changes, which may happen as a result of variations in the configuration of the magnetic field – known as ''.

To learn more about these reconnection jets and the energetic events that cause them, scientists observe the Sun at different wavelengths using a variety of techniques.

This image, which could be mistaken for a piece of abstract art, shows a series of observations performed with the ESA/NASA Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) to study the evolution of reconnection jets on a small patch of the Sun's surface.

The image shows 60 frames taken with the ultraviolet spectrometer SUMER on SOHO over 10 minutes. The individual frames were taken every 10 seconds, so each row of snapshots corresponds to almost three and a half minutes of observations.

Each frame shows a spectrum of the light coming from a small patch on the : the height of each frame measures 84 000 km, which is about a sixteenth of the Sun's diameter.

The bright red and yellow regions in each frame correspond to boundaries between different cells in the granular pattern of the Sun. In the first few frames of the series, the shape of the central bright region is roughly vertical, a sign that the underlying boundary was in a quiet state.

After only a couple of minutes, however, the situation changed dramatically: towards the end of the first row and at the beginning of the second row, the shape of the bright region appears stretched towards the right. This shift is characteristic of a jet of plasma that is receding from the observed boundary at a speed of about 100 km/s.

The following snapshots report how the same boundary went back to a quiescent state, then underwent the launch of a new jet and became quiet once again. These rapid changes, and the powerful events causing them, indicate the highly dynamic nature of the Sun's atmosphere.

The data shown in this image were collected on 28 March 1996 and this image was featured in the series of images "The Sun as Art" published on the SOHO website.

Explore further: Image: Solar dynamics observatory shows sun's rainbow of wavelengths

Related Stories

Image: Comet ISON on Thanksgiving Day

Nov 29, 2013

Comet ISON has moved quite close to the sun as seen by from ESA/NASA's Solar and Heliospheric Observatory captured at 10:51 a.m. EST on Nov. 28, 2013.

Double trouble (w/ Video)

Jul 23, 2013

Two solar eruptions expand side-by-side into space in this movie, playing out in front of the ESA/NASA Solar and Heliospheric Observatory, SOHO, on 1–2 July 2013.

NASA's SDO sees giant January sunspots

Jan 07, 2014

An enormous sunspot, labeled AR1944, slipped into view over the sun's left horizon late on Jan. 1, 2014. The sunspot steadily moved toward the right, along with the rotation of the sun, and now sits almost ...

The Sun has a great idea

Jul 24, 2012

(Phys.org) -- A light bulb-shaped eruption leaps from the Sun and blasts into space in this archival image from the ESA/NASA Solar and Heliospheric Observatory, SOHO.   SOHO captured the scene on 27 Febru ...

Recommended for you

NASA considers possibilities for manned mission to Venus

5 hours ago

(Phys.org) —NASA's Systems Analysis and Concepts Directorate has issued a report outlining a possible way for humans to visit Venus, rather than Mars—by hovering in the atmosphere instead of landing on ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

vlaaing peerd
5 / 5 (1) Jan 15, 2014
belies a hot fireball of plasma


belies a hot fusion ball of plasma.

much better innit?

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.