VIDEO: Now witness the firepower of this fully armed and operational Death Sun!

That’s no painting….

When I saw this image I thought “wow, what an awesome painting!” But that’s not a painting at all – instead, it’s an actual image of the Sun taken in Ultraviolet light by the Solar Dynamics Observatory on August 31 2012, and it was a monster! Here’s the breakdown:

A filament of relatively cool gas had been suspended for several days in the upper atmosphere by the Sun’s magnetic field. The magnetic field on the Sun is very dynamic, with its local field lines tangling and twisting as the Sun rotates. This causes escaping gases to be trapped in the field lines and “hang” in the atmosphere for several days or even weeks at a time. These filaments can be huge. How huge? Huge:

It’s a trap!

But that’s not all … if opposite magnetic field lines are brought together, the result is a powerful release of matter and energy called a Coronal Mass Ejection. And that’s exactly what happened here, hurtling the filament, plus a whole lot more, out at over 900 miles per second!

Even better, NASA caught the whole thing on video and put it together into a spectacular movie featuring footage from SDO, SOHO, and even STEREO-B from the far side of the Sun (be sure to go to HD and full screen for maximum awesomeness):

More to come!

Over the next two years the Sun will be approaching solar maximum, which means we should be treated to even more spectacular events like this one.

Enjoy the show!

Symphony of Science – Climate Change

John D Boswell at Symphony of Science created a beautiful video that describes our greatest challenge to date – climate change. Yes, the subject is a downer, and I would love to believe that it really isn’t happening as much as the oil industry would like us to. But the reality is that it is happening, and it’s getting worse.

Boswell’s video features the late Isaac Asimov, speaking out on climate change way back in the 1980’s. It’s a reminder of the fact that human-caused climate change is nothing new; we’re only now starting to feel the worst effects of it.

There is, however, some hopeful news. The climate change we are experiencing is caused by us, and that means we can do something to reverse it. Boswell emphasizes this point in his video, and turns what could have been a depressing commentary on rapidly diminishing polar ice into a message of hope; we can correct this problem.

If we choose to.

One final leap…

The Great Moment – Paul Calle, 1969

Today, Neil Armstrong was laid to rest in a private burial at sea in Navy tradition. Of course, Armstrong’s passing will spark the recurring question of when or whether NASA will return astronauts to the Moon or beyond. But for today, I wanted to remember Armstrong in the seminal moment that defined his life, and set a marker that would forever define the history of the human race into two halves – one when humanity was confined to Earth, and another in which humanity walked upon another world.

Over the years, I’ve seen several paintings and photos of those incredible forays on the surface of the Moon. But this painting, created by the late space artist Paul Calle in 1969 is, to me, striking for its sheer loneliness of being the first human to set foot on another world.

Of course, Buzz Aldrin was in the Eagle Lunar Module ready to descend the ladder a short while later and  yes, there were thousands of engineers and technicians who worked for years to make this moment possible, to say nothing of the millions of people around the world watching the events unfold on television. But for a moment, there was just Neil Armstrong, alone, standing on the surface of the Moon.

Thank you Neil, for that giant leap for all of us.

Neil Armstrong being buried at sea
Credit: NASA / Bill Ingalls. See the Flickr set for more

Fireball on Jupiter

On September 10, Jupiter took another one for the team:

Is that cool or what? In case you missed it, the flash lasts just for a second or two on the left-hand side of the image near the limb. This video is a series of images captured by amateur astronomer George Hall of Dallas, Texas, who caught it on video. Here’s a still image from Hall’s video:

Still image of the impact on Jupiter
Still image from George Hall’s video capture (click for full size)

The fireball was most likely caused by an asteroid that probably was no larger than 10-meters in diameter. That’s not very big, but just consider how fast this must have been traveling as it slammed into Jupiter’s upper atmosphere and you have a very big explosion indeed!

If this story sounds familiar, consider that this is the sixth time such an event has been observed since the 1994 impacts of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9. Jupiter’s large mass captures astroids and comets into a stable orbit around Jupiter or, apparently rather frequently, pulls these objects in.

Not only does that give us some pretty amazing planetary fireworks, but we also have the benefit of not getting hit by said object. Jupiter is our Solar System’s bodyguard, taking one for the team every couple of years.

Thank you, Jupiter! Now don’t send anything our way kthanxbai.

Update:

Franck Marchis has more at his blog with a pretty good analysis. Worth checking out!