Dynamic video of the sun

Since this is TeachScience.net I think it is time to get back to the Science part, as I have been focusing on the Teaching part lately.

One of my interests is astronomy – I am an avid amateur astronomer, and one of my other websites is The Budget Astronomer. I have the opportunity to teach an Astronomy unit to my grade 9 Science class, and I like to incorporate as much real-life astronomy coolness as I can. There is lots of it, and frankly textbook diagrams just do not do justice to the universe.

The sun is the closest star to us, and one we have been studying for years, and yet it still has all kinds of excitement and mystery. There are several satellites that do nothing but image the sun in different wavelengths, such as SOHO, STEREO, and SDO, And it is the latter that produces the data for the tool I want to talk about. The tool is called JHelioviewer, which is a freeware Java utility that downloads images from the SDO database and compiles them into a hi resolution video.

When started, it downloads a video from the latest set of data for the day, with frames at 30 minute intervals. You can view, zoom, play, step, and enjoy the coolness, and then you can download your own datasets, choosing dates, time range, and wavelength. This last is important, as different wavelengths emphasize different features . Prominences, for example, show up well at 304 Å, but not at all at 4500 Å. In addition, you can download multiple wavelengths and have them superimposed on each other, each with its own colour scheme (since all of these are in UV wavelengths, they are all false-colour, but you can select the palette).

You can zoom in, and even track features over time, and then you can save the results as a video, like this:

Now show me a textbook diagram that can do that!

That video, by the way, is of the massive solar flare that took place on June 7 2011, so now anyone can go and make their own videos of the event in any wavelength, or even multiple wavelengths. Students could make their own videos, and track the movement of sunspots to estimate the period of rotation of the sun, and the evolution of sunspots and prominences.

Go play with it.


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