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Be Mesmerized by the Shifting Complexity of our Sun

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Sit back, relax, and look straight at the sun just this once.

The Solar Dynamics Observatory keeps a close watch on our sun, tracking sunspots, coronal mass ejections, and everything in between to learn more about our nearest star. Now you can bask in the beauty of our weird and wonderful Sun, twisting gas warped by its own magnetic field, for a half-hour of science-intensive relaxation.

The observatory takes a photograph of the sun every twelve seconds; it takes about 10 hours of work to string those photos into a minute of footage.


This 30-minute montage captures the Sun at 10 different wavelengths, each specifically selected to look at a different aspect of the star’s structure:

450.0 nm: Photosphere, the sun’s surface. This is blue-violet visible light, the white light continuum at 6,000 Kelvin and what we’d see with our naked eyes if it weren’t so bright. Sunspots appear as dark spots.


170.0 nm: Chromosphere, just above the photosphere where the temperature starts to rise. Ultraviolet light.

160.0 nm: Upper photosphere and transition region between the chromosphere and corona where the temperature rises rapidly. Emission line of carbon-4 at 10,000 Kelvin.

33.5 nm: Hot, magnetically active region of the corona (the Sun’s atmosphere). The emission line at iron-16 at 2.5 million Kelvin; the most magnetically active regions are brightest in this wavelength while dark areas are gaps in the Sun’s magnetic field.

30.4 nm: Chromosphere and transition region. This is the emission line of helium-2 at 50,000 Kelvin; high-density plasma grows brightest in this wavelength with darker regions indicating lower-density plasma.


21.1 nm: Hotter, magnetically active region of the corona. The emission line of iron-14 at 2 million Kelvin, marking the active region of the Sun including corona, solar flares, and coronal masses.

19.3 nm: Hotter corona including solar flares. This is the emission line for iron-12 at 1 million Kelvin, indicating the hotter corona region, and iron-24 at 20 million Kelvin, indicating flare plasma.


17.1 nm: Quiet corona, the coolest area of the sun’s atmosphere including coronal loops (giant magnetic arcs). This is the emission line of iron-9 at 600,000 Kelvin, where brightness indicates regions where the magnetic field is particularly strong.

13.1 nm: Hottest material of a flare. Emission line of iron-20 and iron-23 above 10 million kelvin.


9.4 nm: Solar flares. This is the emission line of iron-18 heated to 6 million Kelvin.

Tip via FrankN.Stein.

Top image: The Sun in 30.4 nm highlighting the chromosphere and transition zone with bright areas reflecting high plasma density. Credit: NASA/Mika McKinnon. All other images credit: NASA

Contact the author at or follow her at @MikaMcKinnon.