The sun is ramping up toward solar maximum -- the white-hot peak of activity in an 11-year cycle -- and NASA has been snapping images of the phenomenon every 12 seconds for three years.
The space agency put together a three-minute video showing images taken by the Solar Dynamic Observatory since spring 2010. As the Los Angeles Times' Deborah Netburn reported last month, the NASA video stitches together two SDO images per day over the three-year period.
Alex Young, a heliophysicist at Goddard Space Flight Center, narrates the video to point up some of the sun's best-of moments in that time frame. The video shows the whirling, boiling mass of gases that is our nearest star. It also shows a partial eclipse by the moon, the largest flare of this solar cycle and the every-100-years Transit of Venus.
Young told The Times on Friday that, from a historical point of view, this is scientists' moment in the sun: "Combining all the extremely detailed data that we have ... scientists now have the most complete view of the sun in history."
The SDO has provided virtually uninterrupted multi-wavelength views of the star by way of three instruments, he said.
According to Goddard, the observatory has regularly captured solar flares and coronal mass ejections in action. This space weather may hurl radiation and solar material toward the Earth, where it can cause radio blackouts and, in extreme cases, disrupt power. It can also interfere with satellites in space.
"SDO's glimpses into the violent dance on the sun help scientists understand what causes these giant explosions -- with the hopes of some day improving our ability to predict this space weather," an online posting from the space center said.
Images provided by the SDO have been stable, according to the center, despite the fact that the craft orbits the Earth at 6,876 mph and the Earth orbits the sun at 67,062 mph.
Young said that as scientists "combine all these amazing data with data from upcoming missions such as IRIS, we move one step closer to piecing together the puzzle that is the sun. Understanding the solar cycle is one of these pieces."
The scientist said that all of the SDO images were exciting to him as a heliophysicist, but that his personal favorite was the Transit of Venus. The transit was a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence, when Venus moved between the sun and the Earth and viewers saw a tiny dot floating across the surface of the sun over several hours.
"I was able to observe that rare event both with SDO and in person from the top of Mauna Kea, Hawaii, while I was on my honeymoon," he said
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