The Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) is a space-based mission that keeps a close eye on the Sun for changes in its surface activity. One of the things it does best is keep a constant feed of images coming in invisible ultraviolet light wavelengths that show us our Sun’s activity in real-time.
Sometimes, NASA takes these images, which are typically snapped about 12 seconds apart, and stitches them together into either a video or a GIF. In this case, it’s a GIF, and it’s a relatively interesting one at that.
Last month, NASA commanded its SDO spacecraft to do a 360º roll on its own axis in the middle of the void of space. It did so while its Atmospheric Imaging Assembly camera was pointed at the Sun, and they captured the following footage:
Image Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/SDO/Joy Ng
Despite the colors that the camera actually picked up, NASA edited it to a more accurate color temperature to help make the image easier to look at.
The process of going a 360º roll is performed twice a year to calibrate equipment and get “precise measurements of the solar limb,” as NASA explains in a statement.
It’s a necessary procedure because the Sun is not a perfect circle and without the roll, getting an accurate understanding of the Sun’s surface shape with the on-board Helioseismic and Magnetic Imager (HMI) is more difficult.
The HMI is intended to keep a close eye on how the Sun changes over the course of its solar cycle. The cycle can pose a great risk to satellites and astronauts in space, so it’s important to get a better understanding of how it works so that we may one day have the ability to predict when they are going to happen.
The Solar Dynamics Observatory mission launched in 2010 and is expected to be operational for at least 5-10 years. So far, the spacecraft has been an invaluable resource of information about our Sun for NASA.