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'Terrifying and Gorgeous' Visions of Our Sun

As a solar observatory reaches its 10th anniversary, here are some jewels from its mission.

Want to get so up-close and personal with the Sun you can almost feel your aqueous humors boiling?

Then take a trip down memory lane with NASA, which is celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Hinode mission. Managed by the U.S. and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, the Hinode vessel has been constantly surveying our life-giving star since launching in September 2006. NASA writes that it’s given us “valuable insight into our star”:

“The sun is terrifying and gorgeous, and it’s also the best physics laboratory in our solar system,” said Sabrina Savage, project scientist for Hinode at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. “In the past 10 years, Hinode has focused on understanding our sun as a variable star.”

Hinode has captured everything from solar explosions to the delicate motion of solar spicules, allowing scientists to study these phenomena in great detail. As most of Hinode’s instruments are still in good working order, the team behind Hinode hopes to delve even deeper into our nearest star.

The space agency’s Sarah Frazier has compiled a fantastic bunch of images and animations captured by Hinode; here’s a selection beginning with Venus photobombing the Sun in 2012. The planet’s atmosphere is visible as the finest of gold rings:


A time-lapse of two months of the Sun in 2013 shows an extremely violent period. “The bright spots near the center of the disk are active regions,” writes NASA, “areas of concentrated magnetic field that are prone to eruptions like solar flares and coronal mass ejections.”

This view of what could be Hephaestus’ hellish forge is actually a huge solar filament being directed by the Sun’s magnetic field:


Sun spot or skin cell under the microscope? It’s the former, spouting a solar flare in 2006:

A chill scene shows immense fields of waving spicules, which NASA describes as “giant plumes of gas that transfer energy through the sun’s various regions”:

And an unstable region of the star explodes in 2014, sending off invisible X-rays depicted here in orange:

About the Author

  • John Metcalfe
    John Metcalfe is CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, based in Oakland. His coverage focuses on climate change and the science of cities.