Later this month, the US Post Office will begin issuing a new series of postage stamps containing exciting images of the sun from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory.
From its position in a geostationary orbit, the Sun’s Dynamics Observatory (SDO) has been studying the Sun’s atmosphere and magnetic field since early 2010. The spacecraft’s mission is to help us understand how the Sun’s magnetic field and its constant emission of radiation and particle charges affect life, and the technology is here On Earth (and in orbit).
“Sunspots, coronal holes, and coronal rings, for example, can reveal how these magnetic fields dance in the sun and its atmosphere,” the USPS wrote in a statement announcing the new stamp series. “Monitoring plasma explosions and solar flares can help us understand and mitigate the impact of such explosions on space technology.”
The series includes 10 color reproductions of SDO images of the sun in its most dramatic form, designed by Antonia Alcala. SDO sees the sun at ultraviolet wavelengths that we can’t see (but we can certainly feel its effects), so NASA attributed the false colors to the images. It will be available on June 18th. Here’s what to look for:
At certain points on the Sun’s surface, the Sun’s strong magnetic field slows down the convection process, causing hot matter to move toward the surface from the depths of the star. These relatively cold spots appear dark compared to the brightness of the Sun’s corona or the outer layer, and it’s easy to think of them as blind spots on an otherwise active star – but they’re actually spots with very intense magnetic activity and cause. For phenomena such as coronal rings, solar flares, and plasma explosions. Sunspots are constantly moving and changing, usually over several days to several months.
Arcs of hot, glowing ionized gas called plasma extend into space thousands of kilometers from the surface of the Sun. At the base of the arc, you’ll likely find latent sunspots. Plasma is trapped in the curved lines of the Sun’s magnetic field, so when you look at the coronal annulus, you see the trapped plasma lighting up part of the Sun’s magnetic field like a giant neon in space. These plasma arcs can collapse in seconds, or they can maintain their shape for several days before the magnetic field changes and the giant plasma ring collapses back onto the surface of the Sun.
These intense flares from the Sun cover the entire electromagnetic spectrum, from radio waves to gamma rays. When solar flares are strong enough, they can sometimes disrupt communications for short periods and even ground power grids. Solar flares are produced by activity in the Sun’s magnetic field and typically erupt from areas near sunspot clusters.
Explosions of hot gas and plasma, also known as coronal mass ejections, occur along with solar flares.
In regions where the Sun’s corona is cooler than average (but still very hot), the plasma is less dense, and these spots on the Sun’s surface appear darker. The surface of the Sun constantly emits charged particles and radiation into space – scientists call it the solar wind – but the solar wind blows from these dark areas twice as fast because it makes it easier for particles to escape from the lower layers of the Sun through the relatively thin layers. Coronary orifices in the plasma.
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