Watch NASA’s incredible 10-year time lapse of the Sun

NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory has produced a time lapse of the Sun revealing how it's changed over the past decade.

NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory has captured a 10-year time lapse video of the Sun, marking a decade of the space telescope’s operations in Earth orbit.

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As of June 2020, SDO has been observing our host star continuously for 10 years, revealing the secrets of the Sun like never before and giving solar scientists a close-up glimpse into the life nd workings of a star.

The Solar Dynamics Observatory has so far collected 425 million high-resolution images of the Sun, amounting to 20 million gigabytes of data.

SDO captures an image of the Sun every 0.75 seconds, and its Atmospheric Imaging Assembly (AIA) instrument produces images every 12 seconds in 10 different light wavelengths.

The decade-long time lapse seen here was put together using images captured at extreme ultraviolet wavelength 17.1 nanometers. At this wavelength, solar scientists can get a good look at the Sun’s outermost layer, the corona.

Consisting of 1 photo captured every hour, the movie reveals a decade of the Sun’s activity within the space of 61 minutes.

It shows the peak and trough of solar activity that’s well-known to solar scientists as part of the Sun’s 11-year cycle (for more on this, read Lucie Green’s guide to the science of the solar cycle).

Events like transiting planets and eruptions can also be seen in the video. You might also spot split-second blackouts in the image. These dark frames are caused by either Earth or the Moon eclipsing as they pass between SDO and Sun.

Some notable moments in the video include:

6:20 June 7, 2011: A prominence eruption explodes from the lower right of the Sun.

12:24 June 5, 2012: A transit of Venus across the face of the Sun.

13:06 July 19, 2012: A loop of magnetic fields and plasma forms

13:50 Aug. 31, 2012: An eruption on the lower left of the Sun.

20:25 Sept. 29, 2013: A prominence eruption forms a long ‘canyon’ that’s covered with loops of plasma.

26:39 Oct. 8, 2014: Active regions on the Sun resemble a jack o’ lantern just in time for Halloween.

36:18 May 9, 2016: Mercury transit

43:20 July 5, 2017: A large sunspot group lasts 2 weeks

44:20 Sept. 6, 2017: Solar flares last several days

57:38 Nov. 11, 2019: Mercury transit

For more on solar science, see the incredible image captured by the The Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope that was released early 2020 or find out how ESA’s Solar Orbiter will study the surface of the Sun.

You can also read our guides on how to safely observe the Sun and how to safely photograph the Sun.

Video credits

  • Music “Solar Observer” by Lars Leonhard
  • Video credit NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/SDO
  • Lead Producer Scott Wiessinger (USRA)
  • Lead Data Visualizer Tom Bridgman (GST)
  • Lead Science Writer Mara Johnson-Groh (Wyle Information Systems)
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Iain Todd is BBC Sky at Night Magazine’s Staff Writer.