NASA’s SDO Sees Unraveling Solar Prominence

Image Credit: NASA/SDO

Image Credit: NASA/SDO

February 17, 2016 – An elongated solar prominence rose up above the sun’s surface and slowly unraveled on February 3, 2016, as seen in this video by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO).

Prominences, also known as filaments when seen over the sun’s limb, are clouds of solar material suspended above the sun’s surface by the solar magnetic field – the same complex magnetism that drives solar events like flares and coronal mass ejections. The solar material in the prominence streams along the sun’s magnetic field lines before it thins out and gradually breaks away from the solar surface.

SDO’s Atmospheric Imaging Assembly (AIA) captures a shot of the sun every 12 seconds in 10 different wavelengths. The images shown here were taken in extreme ultraviolet wavelengths of 304 angstroms, a type of light that is invisible to our eyes but is colorized here in red.

The sun appears to move in the last few seconds of the video because SDO was performing a guide telescope calibration.

NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory is designed to study the causes of solar variability and its impacts on Earth. The spacecraft’s long-term measurements give solar scientists in-depth information to help characterize the interior of the sun, the sun’s magnetic field, the hot plasma of the solar corona, and the density of radiation that creates the ionosphere of the planets. The information is used to create better forecasts of space weather needed to protect aircraft, satellites and astronauts living and working in space.

SDO is a 3-axis stabilized spacecraft, with two solar arrays, and two high-gain antennas. The spacecraft includes three instruments: the Extreme Ultraviolet Variability Experiment (EVE) built in partnership with the University of Colorado at Boulder’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP), the Helioseismic and Magnetic Imager (HMI) built in partnership with Stanford University, and the Atmospheric Imaging Assembly (AIA) built in partnership with the Lockheed Martin Solar & Astrophysics Laboratory. Data collected by the spacecraft is made available as soon as possible after it is received.

Goddard built, operates and manages the SDO spacecraft for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington, D.C. SDO is the first mission of NASA’s Living with a Star Program. The program’s goal is to develop the scientific understanding necessary to address those aspects of the sun-Earth system that directly affect our lives and society.

SDO was launched on February 11, 2010 aboard a ULA Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.