Watch NASA Turn the Sun Into a Holiday Wreath

A high-powered telescope reveals the sun in different wavelengths invisible to the naked eye, creating a beautiful pinwheel of color.

National Journal
Add to Briefcase
Marina Koren
Dec. 18, 2013, 6:45 a.m.

Thanks to a spe­cial­ized tele­scope that un­locks wavelengths of light that hu­mans can’t see, NASA has trans­formed the sun in­to a bril­liantly colored wreath that puts the one ad­orn­ing your front door to shame.

The short film, cre­ated by NASA’s Sci­entif­ic Visu­al­iz­a­tion Stu­dio at the God­dard Space Flight Cen­ter in Mary­land, shows the sun viewed through a num­ber of wavelengths, in­vis­ible to the na­ked eye, cre­at­ing tiny slices of dis­tinct­ive scenery.

The clip is based on data from NASA’s Sol­ar Dy­nam­ics Ob­ser­vat­ory, which con­ver­ted the wavelengths in­to im­ages that the hu­man eye can see. Each wavelength of light rep­res­ents sol­ar ma­ter­i­al at spe­cif­ic tem­per­at­ures, and re­veals dif­fer­ent com­pon­ents of the sun’s sur­face and at­mo­sphere. This ex­plains why a giv­en area of the sun seen in one wavelength looks dra­mat­ic­ally dif­fer­ent when viewed through an­oth­er.

Yel­low-green light, for ex­ample, em­an­ates from sol­ar ma­ter­i­al that is 10,000 de­grees Fahren­heit, the usu­al tem­per­at­ure of the sur­face of the sun. Ex­treme ul­tra­vi­olet light, col­or­ized here in green, is use­ful for study­ing sol­ar flares, quick and power­ful bursts of en­ergy, be­cause it ra­di­ates from atoms that are about 11 mil­lion de­grees Fahren­heit.

Study­ing pic­tures of the sun in dif­fer­ent wavelengths al­lows sci­ent­ists to track how particles and heat move through the star’s at­mo­sphere. For the layper­son, such im­ages, set to a soft pi­ano melody, are simply really cool to look at.