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kottke.org posts about Sun

NASA’s super accurate map of the 2017 eclipse

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 14, 2017

Using data about the Moon’s terrain from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter as well as elevation data on Earth, NASA’s Ernie Wright created a very accurate map of where and when the August 2017 eclipse will occur in the United States.

Standing at the edge of the moon’s shadow, or umbra, the difference between seeing a total eclipse and a partial eclipse comes down to elevation — mountains and valleys both on Earth and on the moon — which affect where the shadow lands. In this visualization, data from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter account for the moon’s terrain that creates a jagged edge on its shadow. This data is then combined with elevation data on Earth as well as information on the sun angle to create the most accurate map of the eclipse path to date.

You can download maps of your area from NASA’s official eclipse website…I will be studying the Nebraska map closely.

Nebraska Eclipse Map

See also Eclipse Megamovie 2017, an eclipse simulator you can use to check what the eclipse will look like in the sky in your area, and what looks like an amazing eclipse watching festival put on by Atlas Obscura.

Epic time lapse videos of Mercury’s transit of the Sun

posted by Jason Kottke   May 10, 2016

About 13 times per century, the planets align in the heavens and the Earth can watch Mercury crossing the face of the Sun. NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory was watching too and captured time lapse videos from several angles using various instruments measuring magnetism, visible light, and UV. The cosmic ballet goes on.

See also more from the SDO: a gorgeous time lapse of the Sun, a three-year video portrait of the Sun, and Thermonuclear Art.

Time lapse video of a year’s worth of sunrises

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 24, 2016

A man in Germany rigged a camera to take a photo 10 minutes after sunrise every day for an entire year. Phil Plait explains the Sun’s motion:

The video starts at the vernal equinox in 2015, on March 21, and runs through to March 20, 2016. The Sun rises due east, then moves left (north) every morning at a rapid rate. You can then see it slow, stop at the June solstice, and then reverse direction, moving south (right). It slows and stops again at the December solstice (note the snow on the rooftops!), then reverses, moving north again. The weather gets pretty bad, but you can still see enough to get a sense that the Sun moves most rapidly at the equinoxes and most slowly at the solstices, just as I said.

Satellite view of a total eclipse

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 09, 2016

The Japanese satellite Himawari caught yesterday’s total solar eclipse as it moved across the Pacific Ocean.

Update: @paulmison sent along some better views of the eclipse: here and here. I tried to find a better YouTube embed, but no dice. This one, taken of the eclipse in Micronesia, is pretty amazing though…you can see the solar flares coming off the surface of the Sun as it reaches totality. Holy shit, I’m getting excited for Eclipsathon 2017!

Forecasting awesome sunsets

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 24, 2015


A team of three Pennsylvania meteorologists is now providing a coast-to-coast sunset quality forecast.

The team behind SunsetWx has already published a thorough methodology of its algorithm and a case study of successfully predicted “vivid” sunsets its first day of forecasting last week. Basically, the model blends high-resolution forecasts of humidity, pressure changes, and clouds at various levels of the atmosphere, weighting wispy upper-level clouds the strongest and penalizing for thick, low-level clouds or average clear sky evenings.

They totally called Sunday’s bonkers NYC sunset, so maybe they’re worth a follow. Sunset photo by @AirlineFlyer.

Thermonuclear Art

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 03, 2015

In a nod to our nation’s recreational drug users, NASA has created this 30-minute ultra high-resolution look at our Sun, assembled from thousands of photographs taken by the Solar Dynamics Observatory, which snaps a 16-megapixel image of the Sun every few seconds. Duuuuuuuude…

Hand-drawn animation of 43 years of the Sun’s weather

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 23, 2015

Artist and programmer Jeff Thompson has compiled 15,000 hand-drawn maps of the Sun made by astronomers into a single video, creating a mesmerizing and delightfully makeshift stop-motion animation of the Sun’s activity over the last 43 years. Astronomers have been drawing these “solar synoptic maps” since 1956 in order to keep track of the Sun’s “weather”…sunspots, flares, and the like. (via slate)

Supermassive black holes are *really* massive

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 19, 2015

How massive are they? The Sun is 1 solar mass and as wide as 109 Earths. Sagittarius A, the black hole at the center of the Milky Way, weighs 4.3 million solar masses and is as wide as Mercury is far from the Sun. The black hole at the center of the Phoenix Cluster is one of the largest known black holes in the Universe; it’s 73 billion miles across, which is 19 times larger than our entire solar system (from the Sun to Pluto). As for how much it weighs, check this out:

I also like that if you made the Earth into a black hole, it would be the size of a peanut. (thx, reidar)

Flying through an eclipse

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 24, 2015

A group of astronomy enthusiasts rented a plane and flew through the shadow cast by the recent eclipse of the Sun. One passenger took the following video. Look at that shadow creeping across the cloud cover! So cool.

P.S. Still super excited for the 2017 eclipse! (via slate)

Replacement Suns

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 26, 2015

From the Russian Space Agency, a video of what the sky would look like if the Sun were replaced by some other stars. It starts off with the binary star system of Alpha Centuri, but watch until the end for Polaris, which has a radius 46 times that of the Sun.

See also the view from Earth of different planets replacing the Moon and imagining Earth with Saturn’s rings.

Is it possible to extinguish the Sun with water?

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 12, 2014

From Quora, an answer to the question “If we pour water on the sun with a bucket as big as the sun, will the sun be extinguished?”

The probable answer is “no.” The Sun involves a special type of fire that is able to “burn” water, and so it will just get hotter, and six times brighter.

Water is 89% oxygen BY MASS. And the Sun’s overall density is 1.4 times that of water. So if you have a volume of water the VOLUME of the Sun, it will have 1/1.4 = 0.71 times the mass of the Sun, and this mass will be .71*.89 = 63% of a solar mass of oxygen and 8% of a solar mass of hydrogen. The Sun itself is 0.74 solar masses of hydrogen and 0.24 solar masses of helium.

So you end up with a 1.7 solar mass star with composition 48% hydrogen, 37% oxygen, and 14% helium (with 1% heavier elements).

Now, will such a star burn? Yes, but not with the type of proton-proton fusion the Sun uses. A star 1.7 times the mass of the Sun will heat up and burn almost entirely by the CNO fusion cycle, after making some carbon and nitrogen to go along with all the oxygen you’ve started with. So with CNO fusion and that mass you get a type F0 star with about 1.3 times the radius and 6 times the luminosity of the present Sun, and a temperature somewhat hotter than the Sun (7200 K vs. the Sun’s 5800 K). It will be bluish-white, with more UV. That, along with that 6 times heat input, will cause the Earth’s biosphere to be fried, and oceans to probably boil.

Well, we probably shouldn’t do that then. (via gizmodo)

Gorgeous time lapse of the Sun

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 10, 2014

This is a time lapse of the surface of the Sun, constructed of more than 17,000 images taken by the Solar Dynamics Observatory from Oct 14 to Oct 30, 2014. The bright area that starts on the far right is sunspot AR 12192, the largest observed sunspot since 1990.

The sunspot is about 80,000 miles across (as wide as 10 Earths) and it’s visible from Earth with the naked eye. Best viewed as large as possible…I bet this looks amazing on the new retina iMac. (via @pageman)

The 2017 total solar eclipse awarded to the United States

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 21, 2014

2017 Solar Eclipse Map

I do not officially have a bucket list1 but if I did have one, watching a total solar eclipse would be on it. Was just talking about it the other day in fact. Well. I am pretty damn excited for the Great American Eclipse of 2017!

In August 21, 2017, millions of people across the United States will see nature’s most wondrous spectacle — a total eclipse of the Sun. It is a scene of unimaginable beauty; the Moon completely blocks the Sun, daytime becomes a deep twilight, and the Sun’s corona shimmers in the darkened sky. This is your guide to understand, prepare for, and view this rare celestial event.

It goes right through the middle of the country too…almost everyone in the lower 48 is within a day’s drive of seeing it. Cities in the path of the totality include Salem, OR, Jackson, WY, Lincoln, NE, St. Louis, MO (nearly), Nashville, TN, and Charleston, SC.

Weather will definitely play a factor in actually seeing the eclipse, so I will be keeping an eye on Eclipser (“Climatology and Maps for the Eclipse Chaser”) as the event draws near. Early analysis indicates Oregon as the best chance for clear skies. Matt, I am hereby laying claim to your guest room in three years time. So excited!!

  1. Also on this hypothetical bucket list: dunking a basketball, going to outer space, learning to surf, and two chicks at the same time.

A canyon of fire on the Sun

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 25, 2013

NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory is getting some really amazing shots of the Sun, including this 200,000 mile-long solar eruption that left a huge canyon on the surface of the Sun:

Different wavelengths help capture different aspect of events in the corona. The red images shown in the movie help highlight plasma at temperatures of 90,000° F and are good for observing filaments as they form and erupt. The yellow images, showing temperatures at 1,000,000° F, are useful for observing material coursing along the sun’s magnetic field lines, seen in the movie as an arcade of loops across the area of the eruption. The browner images at the beginning of the movie show material at temperatures of 1,800,000° F, and it is here where the canyon of fire imagery is most obvious.

The level of detail shown is incredible. (via @DavidGrann)

ISS in transit

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 25, 2013

Romanian photographer Maximilian Teodorescu recently caught the International Space Station in transit across the Sun.


Teodorescu has also taken photos of the ISS in transit across the Moon.

ISS Moon

These photos make the ISS seem tiny and huge all at the same time. And be sure to click through on the links to see the full-sized photos.

The Sun telescope

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 02, 2013

Turning the Sun into a giant radio telescope through gravitational lensing will take some work, but it is possible.

An Italian space scientist, Claudio Maccone, believes that gravitational lensing could be used for something even more extraordinary: searching for radio signals from alien civilizations. Maccone wants to use the sun as a gravitational lens to make an extraordinarily sensitive radio telescope. He did not invent the idea, which he calls FOCAL, but he has studied it more deeply than anyone else. A radio telescope at a gravitational focal point of the sun would be incredibly sensitive. (Unlike an optical lens, a gravitational lens actually has many focal points that lie along a straight line, called a focal line; imagine a line running through an observer, the center of the lens, and the target.) For one particular frequency that has been proposed as a channel for interstellar communication, a telescope would amplify the signal by a factor of 1.3 quadrillion.

A photon’s random walk

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 27, 2013

The Sun is so dense at its core that the average photon created by the fusion process takes more than 40,000 years to escape to the surface. !!!

The center of the Sun is extremely dense, and a photon can only travel a tiny distance before running into another hydrogen nucleus. It gets absorbed by that nucleus and the re-emitted in a random direction. If that direction is back towards the center of the Sun, the photon has lost ground! It will get re-absorbed, and then re-emitted, over and over, trillions of times.

This is from 1997, so that figure might have been revised a bit (anyone have updated numbers?) but still, that’s incredible. (via hacker news)

Video portrait of the Sun

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 26, 2013

In complete defiance of its parents, NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory has stared directly at the Sun for the past three years. Here’s a video of those three years made from still images taken by the SDO.

During the course of the video, the sun subtly increases and decreases in apparent size. This is because the distance between the SDO spacecraft and the sun varies over time. The image is, however, remarkably consistent and stable despite the fact that SDO orbits the Earth at 6,876 miles per hour and the Earth orbits the sun at 67,062 miles per hour.

The video notes say the animation uses two images per day…it would be nice to see the same animation with a higher frame rate. (via ★interesting)

The vortex view of planetary motion around the Sun

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 01, 2013

Since the Sun moves relative to the other stars around it at about 45,000 miles/hr, if you change the frame of reference from the Sun to the surrounding stellar system, you get planetary motion that looks something like this:

I would take this video with a grain of salt though, especially when it says things like “the Sun is like a comet, dragging the planets in its wake”…the planets don’t lag behind the Sun. Better to think of the thing as a conceptual schematic: resembling reality but not really accurate. (via @pieratt)

Update: There’s a new version of the video that addresses some of the concerns raised about the first video:

(thx, john)

Update: Phil Plait from Bad Astronomy has posted a pretty thorough takedown of this video.

However, there’s a problem with it: It’s wrong. And not just superficially; it’s deeply wrong, based on a very wrong premise. While there are some useful visualizations in it, I caution people to take it with a galaxy-sized grain of salt.

Time lapse video of the transit of Venus

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 06, 2012

Venus passed in front of the Sun yesterday for the last time until 2117. The transit took almost seven hours but this NASA video shows it in under a minute.

Solar eclipse…by Saturn

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 12, 2011

The Cassini spacecraft caught this remarkable photo of Saturn eclipsing the Sun in 2006.

Saturn eclipse

Click through for the big image and the massive image. If you look close can see the Earth in the image, for reals!

Big orange ball

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 29, 2010

What is this, do you think? Electron microscope photo of pollen? Infrared tennis ball? Mars? The inside of a baseball?

Hydrogen Sun

It’s actually a photo of the Sun taken at the H-alpha wavelength by an amateur astronomer.

Sun may affect radioactive decay rates

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 25, 2010

During a search for a radioactive isotope-based random number generator, researchers discovered that radioactive decay rates, previously thought to be constant, appear to be influenced by the activity of the Sun.

On Dec 13, 2006, the sun itself provided a crucial clue, when a solar flare sent a stream of particles and radiation toward Earth. Purdue nuclear engineer Jere Jenkins, while measuring the decay rate of manganese-54, a short-lived isotope used in medical diagnostics, noticed that the rate dropped slightly during the flare, a decrease that started about a day and a half before the flare.

If this apparent relationship between flares and decay rates proves true, it could lead to a method of predicting solar flares prior to their occurrence, which could help prevent damage to satellites and electric grids, as well as save the lives of astronauts in space.

The decay-rate aberrations that Jenkins noticed occurred during the middle of the night in Indiana — meaning that something produced by the sun had traveled all the way through the Earth to reach Jenkins’ detectors. What could the flare send forth that could have such an effect?

Jenkins and Fischbach guessed that the culprits in this bit of decay-rate mischief were probably solar neutrinos, the almost massless particles famous for flying at nearly the speed of light through the physical world — humans, rocks, oceans or planets — with virtually no interaction with anything.

Maybe the science part of 2012 wasn’t so far-fetched after all. (No, not really.)

The solar superstorm of 1859

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 04, 2009

A massive solar flare on September 1, 1859 “caused the most potent disruption of Earth’s ionosphere in recorded history”.

Within hours, telegraph wires in both the United States and Europe spontaneously shorted out, causing numerous fires, while the Northern Lights, solar-induced phenomena more closely associated with regions near Earth’s North Pole, were documented as far south as Rome, Havana and Hawaii, with similar effects at the South Pole.

(via the browser)

Our three Suns

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 04, 2009

In early July, a photographer took a picture of what appears to be three Suns rising over Gdansk Bay in Poland.

Triple Sunrise

The photographer insists that the effect was not created by the camera and was visible to the naked eye. The early consensus in the forums is that the photo was taken through a double-paned window.

Photos of the Sun

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 13, 2008

The Big Picture collects photos of the Sun. I’ve featured a number of these on kottke.org before but it never hurts to look often at the Sun.

Sunspots in Grand Central

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 02, 2008

Observe sunspots by going to Grand Central Terminal?

The southern wall of the Grand Concourse, facing 42nd Street, has semicircular grills high up, with small curlicued spaces like those in a leafy tree. Many of those spaces act like the aperture of a pinhole camera, reflecting an image of the sun that, when it reaches the floor, will be 8 to 12 inches wide. The smaller grill spaces will produce dimmer but sharper solar images on your paper.

(via 92y blog)

The One Day Poem Pavilion uses the

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 25, 2008

The One Day Poem Pavilion uses the sun to display a poem one line at a time over the course of an entire day. (via stingy kids)

Solar furnaces

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 28, 2008

A solar furnace is a structure used to harness the rays of the sun in order to produce high temperatures. This is achieved by using a curved mirror (or an array of mirrors) acting as a parabolic reflector to concentrate light (Insolation) on to a focal point. The temperature at the focal point may reach up to 3,000 degrees Celsius, and this heat can be used to generate electricity, melt steel or make hydrogen fuel.

Whoa! Here’s a great photo of a solar furnace in Uzbekistan and an even better photo of said furnace melting aluminum (close-up).

Solar furnace

If you’ve got an old TV, you can use the Fresnel lens to make a solar furnace of your own. Caveats apply:

DANGER! This device is extremely dangerous. It should not be constructed or operated by anyone who does not observe proper safety precautions. It will instantly destroy flesh. It will melt metals, ceramics, and most any other material. Always wear welding goggles when operating this device! DO NOT leave this device unattended.

This DIY solar furnace is capable of melting brick (!!) and will “boil” a quarter in ~25 seconds.

Solar furnaces and the like have been around for centuries. In the 3rd century BC, Archimedes allegedly used a mirror to burn up the entire Roman fleet during the seige of Syracuse:

When Marcellus withdrew them [his ships] a bow-shot, the old man [Archimedes] constructed a kind of hexagonal mirror, and at an interval proportionate to the size of the mirror he set similar small mirrors with four edges, moved by links and by a form of hinge, and made it the centre of the sun’s beams—its noon-tide beam, whether in summer or in mid-winter. Afterwards, when the beams were reflected in the mirror, a fearful kindling of fire was raised in the ships, and at the distance of a bow-shot he turned them into ashes. In this way did the old man prevail over Marcellus with his weapons.

This assertion was tested at MIT and on Mythbusters with mixed results. (via delicious ghost)

Closeup videos of the sun. The bottom

posted by Jason Kottke   May 29, 2007

Closeup videos of the sun. The bottom one is especially mesmerizing.