Real science often is more fantastic that the stuff people make up. Haldane was right.
In a century our studies of the Sun progressed from the deep calculations based on erroneous assumptions of what our star is make of (Lord Kelvin‘s calculations on how long the iron in the Sun would take to cool to its present color), to today’s solar studies, in which nearly every moment of the Sun’s life is recorded through a half dozen different sensors, by satellites and telescopes and whatever other means we have to capture data from the Sun’s burning.
It’s hard science — but it borders on art, too, doesn’t it? Watch this:
What’s going on here?
Watching a particularly beautiful movie of the sun helps show how the lines between science and art can sometimes blur. But there is more to the connection between the two disciplines: science and art techniques are often quite similar, indeed one may inform the other or be improved based on lessons from the other arena. One such case is a technique known as a “gradient filter” – recognizable to many people as an option available on a photo-editing program. Gradients are, in fact, a mathematical description that highlights the places of greatest physical change in space. A gradient filter, in turn, enhances places of contrast, making them all the more obviously different, a useful tool when adjusting photos. Scientists, too, use gradient filters to enhance contrast, using them to accentuate fine structures that might otherwise be lost in the background noise. On the sun, for example, scientists wish to study a phenomenon known as coronal loops, which are giant arcs of solar material constrained to travel along that particular path by the magnetic fields in the sun’s atmosphere. Observations of the loops, which can be more or less tangled and complex during different phases of the sun’s 11-year activity cycle, can help researchers understand what’s happening with the sun’s complex magnetic fields, fields that can also power great eruptions on the sun such as solar flares or coronal mass ejections.
The images here show an unfiltered image from the sun next to one that has been processed using a gradient filter. Note how the coronal loops are sharp and defined, making them all the more easy to study. On the other hand, gradients also make great art. Watch the movie to see how the sharp loops on the sun next to the more fuzzy areas in the lower solar atmosphere provide a dazzling show.
NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center
NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center
To download this video go to: svs.gsfc.nasa.gov/goto?11112
NASA Goddard Space Flight Center enables NASA’s mission through four scientific endeavors: Earth Science, Heliophysics, Solar System Exploration, and Astrophysics. Goddard plays a leading role in NASA’s accomplishments by contributing compelling scientific knowledge to advance the Agency’s mission.
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Teachers ought to figure out how to use this in classrooms — and I don’t mean astronomy, physics and chemistry only. Can you find a use for this film in geography? History? English and literature?
Sometime shortly after World War II scientists captured film of a mass coronal ejection from the Sun. You probably can imagine the film I’m remembering. That snippet found its way into films students saw in science, geography, chemistry, biology (“this is our Sun, from which all living things get energy, through photosynthesis”), and probably a half dozen other subjects. It was spectacular, and it was just about all that was available for classroom use, then. Students now probably have never seen it. Worse, my experience is that students in high school generally have very little familiarity with the science projects carried out by agencies like NASA and the National Science Foundation, and they know very little about the Sun, or the Moon and other planets.
Teachers, the state isn’t going to help you put this into your classrooms. Can you figure out some way to get it in?
- Our Gorgeous, Graceful, Gradient Sun (universetoday.com)
- Observing the Sun through this gradient filter is like nothing you’ve ever experienced [Video] (io9.com)
- NASA Gradient Sun video mixes science and art (macleans.ca)
- An Incredible Film From NASA: Gradient Sun (littlegreenfootballs.com)
- NASA Turns Sun Into a Beautiful Color Wonderland [Video] (gizmodo.com)
- Watch Psychedelic Explosions on the Sun’s Surface (theatlantic.com)
- Astronomers Uncover A Surprising Trend In Galaxy Evolution (sacbee.com)