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Thursday, February 26, 2015

THE SUN GOD

On a clear day, the sun appears warm and inviting from 93 million miles away, but we know better. Upon closer examination with NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), scientists have seen exactly how menacing the sun truly is. 


For the last five years, SDO has been snapping, on average, one picture every second of the sun's surface. Just last month, the spacecraft took its 100-millionth image, shown to the right.
In celebration of SDO's five years in space, NASA has released two videos of the best images the spacecraft has taken, so far. And these highlights are nothing short of extraordinary, giving us an unprecedented look at the solitary star that makes up 99.86% of the mass in our solar system. 
Despite its bouts of lethal radiation that it flings toward Earth on a regular basis, the surface of the sun is undeniably beautiful. Like Earth, the sun has a magnetic field, but while Earth's magnetic field is hard at work shielding us from most of the sun's harmful radiation, the sun's magnetic field is busy trying to kill us.
Solar flares, like the one below, are the largest explosions in the solar system, releasing ten million times more energy than a volcanic eruption on Earth. They occur when energy builds up within a localized spot on the sun's surface. As that energy eventually grows strong enough, it ejects a tremendous plume of plasma — extremely hot gas — into the sun's upper atmosphere, called the corona.
The energy that produces solar flares comes from the sun's powerful magnetic field. Although the field hangs like a canopy around the sun, the field itself is invisible. But we can see how it affects the gas, like in the example below.
This arch of scorching-hot gas is following the magnetic field lines around the sun, just like howiron filings trace the invisible magnetic field from a bar magnet.

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