Heliophysics nugget: Gradient sun

October 19, 2012 by Karen C. Fox
The image on the left shows the sun on Feb. 24, 2011 as observed by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory. The image shows light emitted by million degree plasma, a temperature that is particularly good at highlighting fine arcs in the sun's atmosphere called coronal loops. The image on the right shows the same image after being processed with a gradient filter that enhances the loops even more for research purposes. Credit: NASA/A. Young

(Phys.org)—Heliophysics nuggets are a collection of early science results, research techniques and instrument updates that further our attempt to understand the sun and the dynamic space weather system that surrounds Earth.

Watching a particularly beautiful movie of the sun helps show how the lines between science and art can sometimes blur. But there is more to the connection between the two disciplines: science and art techniques are often quite similar, indeed one may inform the other or be improved based on lessons from the other arena. One such case is a technique known as a "gradient filter" – recognizable to many people as an option available on a photo-editing program. Gradients are, in fact, a that highlights the places of greatest physical change in space. A gradient filter, in turn, enhances places of contrast, making them all the more obviously different, a useful tool when adjusting photos.

Scientists, too, use gradient filters to enhance contrast, using them to accentuate fine structures that might otherwise be lost in the . On the sun, for example, scientists wish to study a phenomenon known as coronal loops, which are giant arcs of solar material constrained to travel along that particular path by the magnetic fields in the sun's atmosphere. These loops can vary in complexity over the sun's 11-year activity cycle, becoming more or less intertwined and inter-connected. Observations of this phenomena can help researchers understand what's happening with the sun's complicated magnetic fields that can also power great eruptions on the sun such as the or coronal . The images above show an unfiltered image from the sun next to one that has been processed using a gradient filter. Note how the coronal loops are sharp and defined, making them all the more easy to study.


Video: Using a gradient filter on imagery captured by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) helped create this stunning display of sharply defined on the sun next to fuzzier, cooler areas that are sometimes referred to as "moss" due to their moss-like appearance. Credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

Figuring out how to best process scientific imagery takes experts of all types working together to devise the new and improved methods. For example, experts in statistics, computer recognition and image processing have all come together regularly for the last nine years at Solar Information Processing workshops to focus on sharing state-of-the-art imaging techniques that can best further scientific research.

And, of course, gradients also make great art. Through careful adjustment of gradient algorithms on this movie from NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory, sharp loops of solar material on the sun pop out visually next to more fuzzy areas in the sun's atmosphere, providing a dazzling show.

Explore further: Prelude to an X-Class solar flare

Related Stories

Prelude to an X-Class solar flare

July 17, 2012

What takes place on the Sun before it unleashes a huge solar flare? It’s a thing of beauty, and observations from the Solar Dynamics Observatory are helping scientists understand how magnetic energy on the Sun creates ...

SDO helps measure magnetic fields on the sun's surface

January 20, 2012

(PhysOrg.com) -- Science nuggets are a collection of early science results, new research techniques, and instrument updates that further our attempt to understand the sun and the dynamic space weather system that surrounds ...

Huge coronal hole is sending solar wind our way

March 14, 2012

An enormous triangular hole in the Sun’s corona was captured earlier today by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, seen above from the AIA 211 imaging assembly. This gap in the Sun’s atmosphere is allowing more ...

Image: Coronal hole on the sun

June 6, 2012

(Phys.org) -- This image of a coronal hole on the sun bears a remarkable resemblance to the 'Sesame Street' character Big Bird. Coronal holes are regions where the sun's corona is dark.

Solar Dynamics Observatory goes for a spin

April 9, 2012

(Phys.org) -- On April 4, 2012, NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) did a 360. It rolled completely around its axis – something it does twice a year. In this movie, the dizzying view looks as if the sun went for ...

Recommended for you

Dwarf galaxies shed light on dark matter

January 23, 2017

The first sighting of clustered dwarf galaxies bolsters a leading theory about how big galaxies such as our Milky Way are formed, and how dark matter binds them, researchers said Monday.

One of the brightest distant galaxies known discovered

January 23, 2017

An international team led by researchers from the Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias (IAC) and the University of La Laguna (ULL) has discovered one of the brightest "non-active" galaxies in the early universe. Finding ...

Freeze-dried food and 1 bathroom: 6 simulate Mars in dome

January 20, 2017

Crammed into a dome with one bathroom, six scientists will spend eight months munching on mostly freeze-dried foods—with a rare treat of Spam—and have only their small sleeping quarters to retreat to for solace.

Image: Wavemaker moon Daphnis

January 20, 2017

The wavemaker moon, Daphnis, is featured in this view, taken as NASA's Cassini spacecraft made one of its ring-grazing passes over the outer edges of Saturn's rings on Jan. 16, 2017. This is the closest view of the small ...

Video: A colorful 'landing' on Pluto

January 20, 2017

What would it be like to actually land on Pluto? This movie was made from more than 100 images taken by NASA's New Horizons spacecraft over six weeks of approach and close flyby in the summer of 2015. The video offers a trip ...

3 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

rubberman
3 / 5 (4) Oct 19, 2012
A dazzling show indeed!
cantdrive85
1.6 / 5 (7) Oct 19, 2012
"Magnetic reconnection is pseudo-science" Hannes Alfven
wavettore
1 / 5 (5) Oct 19, 2012
New and old Science
A new and Progressive Science shows how Wavevolution, or the transformation from waves to atoms, is the connecting link that closes the circle of science to open new horizons never seen before.
The bureaucracy of traditional science prevents the recognition of any event unless certain criteria are first met. The problem of this science is buried deep right in the compilation of these "laws" or criteria introduced by a few scientists in the name of all science and from their erroneous understanding of the relation between Space and Time. This antiquated system of rules also results in misleading theories.

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.