Wallpaper Wednesday: SDO and Sunspots

16 07 2014
"Sweeping Arches and Loops", solar magnetic activity viewed in the ultraviolet, June 30, 2014.

“Sweeping Arches and Loops”, solar magnetic activity viewed in the ultraviolet, June 30, 2014.

Looking at some of the photos returned by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), you’d think contemporary solar observing had little in common with what was being done at Kodaikanal c. 1900-1910. But in addition to the dramatic images of solar loops like the one shown above, SDO also sends back sunspot records that closely resemble the photos and charts produced by C. Michie Smith, John Evershed, and company.

"Spots Galore," July 8, 2014. Image credit: Solar Dynamics Observatory/NASA

“Spots Galore,” July 8, 2014. Image credit: Solar Dynamics Observatory/NASA

According to SDO/NASA:

“The Sun sported a whole slew of substantial sunspots over the past 11 days (July 1-10, 2014). This movie and still show the Sun in filtered white light speckled with more and larger sunspots than we have seen in quite some time. Sunspots are darker, cooler regions on the Sun created by intense magnetic fields poking through the surface. The Sun may have passed its peak level of activity, but it will still be producing many more sunspots and solar storms during the rest of this solar cycle. The still image was taken on July 8 at 22:24 UT.”

Looks familiar!

Visit the NASA/SDO gallery to see more images of solar activity. Like the two above images, most are stills excerpted from videos. Click through each image to reach the links to .mov and .mp4 files.

Project Yosemite

3 03 2014

I’ve mentioned Yosemite a few times over the past two years. I have family in California’s Central Valley, and when we visit, it sometimes seems as if the mountains are literally calling to me. Skywatching is amazing up there (if you can get past your fear of being eaten by a cougar) and there is no shortage of photographs and films to prove it. To wit: Project Yosemite recently released a second timelapse, ostensibly documenting a 200+ mile backpacking trip, but really giving us a good view of the park’s changing skies. Their first video, released in 2012, was stunningly beautiful. Yosemite HD II may be even better.

ETA: The air traffic over Yosemite never ceases to amaze me.


26 02 2014

I came across this odd but compelling Spacefaring video about the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) while doing some research on Achyut Kanvinde’s design for the Physical Research Laboratory (PRL) in Ahmedabad (1954). I can’t decide how I feel about contrast between “villager” and “science”. The video is also a little misleading, as India’s space port is in Andhra Pradesh (just up the east coast from Chennai). On the other hand, I watched it twice, which means it captured and held my interest.

NZ Timelapse: Reflections

2 04 2013

New Zealand Landscapes Timelapse Volume Two from Bevan Percival on Vimeo.

I’ve lived and worked in some pretty remote locations, but nowhere so free of light pollution that I could see stars reflected by a body of water.

Liquid Light Show (Aurora Australis)

4 02 2013

Liquid Light Show:Bioluminescence and Aurora Australis from Alex Cherney on Vimeo.

Aurora Watching at Aurora Sky Station, Abisko, Sweden

4 02 2013

Aurora watching at Aurora Sky Station, Abisko, Sweden, January 19, 2013 from Tim Nordström on Vimeo.

Wallpaper Wednesday (Submillimetre Astronomy)

14 11 2012

Atacama Pathfinder Experiment (APEX), Chajnantor Observatory, Chile. Photo credit: ESO/H.H.Heyer

Operating on the theory that I am eventually going to finish writing my first book, I’ve begun doing research for my next large project, on early twentieth-century solar and radio observatories. Flipping through the articles on my desk, I ran across one from the 1960s about instruments for observing in the submillimetre wavelength range.[1] Reading it prompted me to wonder if there was any recent news about the Atacama Pathfinder Experiment (APEX) telescope. The search for news from APEX led me to today’s wallpaper.

Every time I visit the ESO website, I’m newly impressed with the online archive. I’ve commented on the image collection before, but the instrument documentation is superb as well. So, too, is the video archive. If you want to learn more about millimetre and submillimetre observations, check out the APEX trailer. Or, you can watch it just because it’s beautiful.


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Click on the image at the head of this post to download the wallpaper.
[1] A. E. Salomonovich, “Some Problems and Instrumental Features of Submillimetre Astronomy,” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series A, Mathematical and Physical Sciences, Vol. 264, No. 1150, A Discussion on Infrared Astronomy (Apr. 24, 1969), pp.

James Webb Telescope

17 08 2012


A year ago, I posted a rather uninspiring wallpaper describing the James Webb Telescope. If you’ve been following the development of the telescope, you’ve probably noticed that some of the terminology has shifted in response to changes made in the instruments.

For the past ten months, the mission team has been offering a “behind the scenes” look at the instruments and their performance at various testing sites via video podcast. Everything you ever wanted to know about mirrors in space—watch the videos and you will never need to ask another question on the subject.

The most recent video veers away from the subject of the telescope’s mirrors to talk about the “dynamic duo,” the paired instrument consisting of the Fine Guidance Sensor (FGS) and the Near-Infrared Imager and Slitless Spectrograph (NIRISS) instrument. It seems like an odd combination: the FGS is a guide camera responsible for the fine adjustments in the telescope’s guidance system, while the NIRISS is a four-way instrument that works as an imager, spectroscope/-graph, and interferometer. The FGS and NIRISS operate independently, but as the video linked above indicates, the NIRISS can take over some guidance functions, adding another level of redundancy to the instrument in case something goes wrong with the FGS.

Also: thank you, Canada.

Astronomer’s Paradise

4 07 2012

And speaking of time lapse videos… I could have sworn I posted this one earlier this year, but I can’t find it in the archive, so maybe I made my students watch in class instead of talking about it here. “Astronomer’s Paradise” is the first of a planned three episodes in the Atacama Desert Starry Nights series. If you’d like to know more about the creation of the video or the European Southern Observatory, both National Geographic and Nikon Rumors covered the release of the video back in February.

Višnjan Observatory Timelapse

4 07 2012

Visnjan observatory timelapse teaser from Romulic & Stojcic on Vimeo.

As far as I know, Romulic and Stojcic have yet to release the full version of this time lapse of Višnjan Observatory in Istria, Croatia. The two minutes and thirty-six seconds that they did release is pretty sweet, though.

Observatories and Instruments