NASA Time-lapse Video of Sun Shows 10 Years of Solar Activity in 1 Hour

NASA has released a time-lapse video of the sun that shows 10 years' worth of activity at the corona in just one hour. The video was created from a selection of some of the 425 million high-resolution images that have been taken of the sun over the last decade.

The corona is the outermost part of the sun's atmosphere. One of the instruments used by the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) captures images at different wavelengths every 12 seconds. The images used in the time-lapse film were all taken at a wavelength of 17.1 nanometers. This is an "extreme" ultraviolet wavelength that shows the corona.

The film is a compilation of images taken every hour, amounting to 10 years condensed down to 61 minutes.

Over the 10 years, viewers can watch as the sun goes through one of its cycles. Activity on the surface of the sun increases and decreases on an 11-year cycle. The peak of activity is known as the solar maximum and is characterized by an increase in sunspots. These are patches on the sun that appear darker than the surrounding area. They are cooler than other parts of the sun's surface and are linked to the production of solar flares—huge explosions linked to the sun's magnetic field that send solar particles into space.

The solar minimum—which it is currently in the middle of—is when activity falls to its lowest point, and fewer sunspots appear. So far over 2020, the sun has been free of sunspots for 74 percent of the time. Over 2019, it was sunspot-free 77 percent of the time.

On May 29, the sun produced its biggest solar flare for over six months, prompting NASA to say the sun may be "waking up" from it's solar minimum.

In a statement, NASA notes the film includes several "dark frames" caused by the Earth or the moon eclipsing the SDO. In 2016, there was a "longer blackout," it said. This was caused by a problem with the Atmospheric Imaging Assembly instrument, which takes images of the sun.

The video comes ahead of what will be the closest images of the sun ever to be taken. The European Space Agency (ESA) announced scientists will release the images in the middle of July. They will come from the ESA and NASA's Solar Orbiter spacecraft, which came within 48 million miles of the sun's surface.

Solar Orbiter Project Scientist Daniel Müller said the UV imaging telescopes on the spacecraft have the same resolution as the SDO. Because the probe is twice half the distance from the sun as the SDO, it will have twice the resolution. "We have never taken pictures of the sun from a closer distance than this," he said in a statement.

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The sun produced a M8.7-Class solar flare on December 17, 2014. NASA Goddard