After five years in space, the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) is giving humans a closer glimpse of the Sun than many had ever imagined.
At the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, images from the SDO are now on display in an exhibit called the Solarium.
“The point of the Solarium is to give people an immersive feel for the scale, the size, and the dynamics and complexity of the Sun,” says Dr. Alex Young, the associate director for science of the Heliophysics Science Division at Goddard.
The mission began in 2010 when NASA launched the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket, which carried the SDO into space.
Once the SDO deployed, its high-speed cameras began taking snapshots of the Sun, recording data that scientists converted into high-definition images.
Through the images, scientists could determine the activities on the Sun’s surface, including solar eruptions, solar flares, plasma loops, and magnetic fields, among others.
“There’s a gold one and in that particular one you see these giant loops and those are in fact magnetic fields thousands of times stronger than say a fridge magnet and you see super-hot gas or plasma that’s following along those field lines and lighting them up,” Young says.
Young says they study these events because of their impact on Earth.
“This is part of why we use SDO in the first place because all of those events – the flares, the CMEs, can travel to earth and when they do they impact our technology, communications, GPS, satellites, they even impact airlines or for us astronauts in space,” Young says.
When the images are created, they originally come in black and white. To differentiate the events for Solarium, project manager and producer Gene Duderstein adjusts the coloring.
She also combines the images with a low hum like audio to give visitors a calming and mesmerizing experience.
“The beautiful thing about Solarium is that it almost prevents anything from going through your mind. You can’t have too many worries or cares now. It just brings you into space where you’re solely using your senses. You’re really relying on what you’re hearing and you’re drawn into what you’re seeing and you feel very present,” Duderstein says.
She hopes that the exhibit can be used to help inspire more scientific understanding of the solar system.
“I think it really brings together that both art and science are forms of exploration. I think we all could use a break from our busy lives every now and then just to have a moment of awe,” Duderstein says.
The exhibit is now a permanent display at the Goddard Space Flight Center.