dan seaton | cycling writer & photographer, solar physicist

X9 Solar Flare

One of the things that’s most interesting in a really big solar flare like the one we saw on Wednesday is not the flare itself, but how the surrounding solar corona — the Sun’s hot, magnetized atmosphere — responds to the flare. Think of it! A big flare will dump as much energy into the corona in a matter of minutes as humanity has produced in all of its history. It’s an astounding amount of energy, and a really big flare can disturb the Sun’s atmosphere globally.

Sometimes the flare causes a coronal dimming, basically causing a vast region of the sun’s atmosphere to stream out into interplanetary space. Other times it will send giant waves bouncing around through the complex magnetic field of the corona.

These are big things. The Sun is almost four times wider than the distance from the Earth to the Moon. So when we talk about disrupting the whole solar corona, we’re talking about changing a region in space that would absolutely dwarf the Earth. The Apollo astronauts traveled to the moon in about four days. These things cross a distance four times larger in about an hour.

But all that said, compared to a brilliant solar flare, the effects I am talking about are faint. You can just barely see them in most of the standard movies we make of the Sun with the Solar Ultraviolet Imager — SUVI — on NOAA’s GOES-16 satellite that I work on.

So I’ve been working on some techniques to make these things easier to see, which is what you will see in this movie. The technique separates dynamic features from the steady background, amplifies those features, and then puts them back into the image so you can see where on the Sun things are changing. It’s not perfect yet, and the results are quite noisy, but I think you’ll see why I’m so excited about the latest big flare and the observations we’re getting from SUVI when you watch the movie.

Remember: everything you see in the movie is real. There are no computer graphics or camera tricks, the only thing I’ve done is intensify the changes so you can see them more clearly. Those waves bouncing and rippling and flowing all around the solar corona are really there, sweeping over regions the size of our planet in a matter of seconds.

For best results, watch this video in fullscreen mode.

NOAA-mandated legal disclaimer: SUVI is not operational. Don’t do space weather forecasting with these images.

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