Scientists use special devices to capture the Sun’s motion. NASA has combined 10 years of observations of the Sun into a single, beautiful accelerated video for our viewing pleasure.
One decade of the sun’s daylight per hour.
What does 10 years mean to our 4.6 billion year old sun? Probably as much as the last millionth of a second meant to you. Yet every decade that our old sun burns is a decade of tumultuous, sometimes violent change, a fact that becomes beautifully evident in a new video from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO).
In this amazing video, entitled “A Decade of Sun”, astronomers have compiled 425 million high-resolution images of the sun, taken once every 0.75 seconds between June 2, 2010 and June 1, 2020. Each second of the video represents a day in the life of the sun, and the entire decade passes in about 60 minutes.
An 11-year cycle.
During this decade, the sun underwent a radical change, slowly bubbling with huge magnetic ripples called sunspots, which peaked around 2014 before disappearing again. The quiescence of the sun (resting phase) was not a surprise.
Every 11 years or so, the magnetic poles of the sun suddenly change places; north becomes south, the solar magnetic activity begins to decrease and the sun’s surface begins to look like a calm sea of yellow light. This period of relative calm is called a solar minimum (and we are currently in the middle of one).
A new solar cycle.
But midway between one decade of flip-flopping and the next, a violent change occurs. Magnetic activity increases to a peak of vibration, known as the solar maximum, and the star’s surface undulates with gigantic sunspots, hairs with magnetic field lines and lightning with plasma explosions known as solar flares. Each maximum culminates with a new inversion of the magnetic poles, signaling the start of a new solar cycle.
These changes are difficult to spot with the naked eye from Earth (although solar maxima do result in more visible auroras at the lower latitudes of the world), but NASA’s SDO satellite sees them clearly by monitoring our star in conditions of extreme ultraviolet light. These ultra-energetic wavelengths cut out the sun’s glare and reveal the abundant magnetic changes in the sun’s outermost atmosphere, or corona. It’s an amazing sight to see, even though the sun has probably already forgotten all about it.