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The Sciences

Gallery: First Images From NASA's Astounding Sun-Gazer

80beatsBy Andrew MosemanApril 22, 2010 6:59 PM

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Sun1.jpg

On this Earth Day, NASA's focused on the sun. It just released the first images from the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), launched in February to study our star in breathtaking detail at a rate of 60 images per minute. The new pictures include the evolution of this loop.

Known as a prominence eruption, the loop was born from a relatively cold cloud of plasma, or charged gas, tenuously tethered to the sun's surface by magnetic forces. Such clouds can erupt dramatically when they break free of the sun's unstable hold [National Geographic]

. Scroll through the gallery for a few more blazing wonders. Images: NASA

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This image of the sun with the prominence in the upper left was taken in false color to show the temperature range. The greens are nearly 1,800,000 degrees Fahreneheit, while the red areas measure a cool 100,000 degrees. And that's just one of the things the observatory can do.

"It is the most comprehensive view of the sun," Madhulika Guhathakurta, the mission's programme scientist at NASA, said at a press briefing on Wednesday. "When you see the whole sun, it is showing connections we have never seen before" [New Scientist]

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The SDO caught a coronal mass ejection, a wave that cruised across the surface of the sun at half a million miles per hour.

"What we've ejected here is an amount of mass about the same as contained in the whole Mississippi river, and we've ejected it at a speed of about a million miles per hour... in about 30 seconds," said Alan Title, the instrument's principal investigator [New Scientist]

. However, this CME didn't cause any damage, despite shooting some of that material toward us.

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An erupting solar flare, surrounding dark areas "dimmed" by the vacating gas. This dimming becomes much clearer in the NASA video.

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This splotch is a sunspot the size of our planet, captured by an SDO instrument that measures the sound waves along the surface of the sun.

The new probe is able to return more data much faster than anything else currently in orbit: "The SDO is now sending four 16-megapixel images every three seconds to the ground" [National Geographic]

, says Dean Pesnell of the Goddard Space Flight Center. Related Content: Bad Astronomy: 10 Things You Don't Know About the Sun 80beats: NASA’s Next Observatory Will Stare at the Sun; Predict Solar Storms 80beats: Astronomers May Have Cracked the Case of the Quiet, Spotless Sun

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