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NASA uses different wavelengths of light to create solar patchwork

  • This collage of solar images from NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) shows how observations of the sun in different wavelengths helps highlight different aspects of the sun's surface and atmosphere.NASA/SDO/Goddard Space Flight Center

  • This collage of solar images from NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) shows how observations of the sun in different wavelengths helps highlight different aspects of the sun's surface and atmosphere.NASA/SDO/Goddard Space Flight Center

  • Some of the wavelengths observed by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) -- each of which is chosen to emphasize a specific aspect of the sun's surface or atmosphere.NASA/SDO/Goddard Space Flight Center

This quilt will keep you warm -- it's about 11 million degrees Fahrenheit.

The space agency's colorful images of the sun rarely resemble the yellowish, featureless disks that we see in our own pictures -- sometimes colored a bit more red when near the horizon since the light must travel through more of Earth's atmosphere and consequently loses blue wavelengths before getting to the camera's lens.

NASA's Specialized ground-based or space-based telescopes can observe a colorful array of light far beyond the ranges visible to the naked eye. And NASA pores over those pictures, each of which conveys a different piece of information about different components of the sun's surface and atmosphere, the agency recently said.

To demonstrate the wide array of spectrums that NASA studies, the space agency put out a colorful tapestry image that resembles a solar quilt, with red, blue, green, purple, orange and other colored images of the sun.

"Yellow-green light of 5,500 Angstroms, for example, generally emanates from material of about 10,000 degrees F, which represents the surface of the sun. Extreme ultraviolet light of 94 Angstroms, on the other hand, comes from atoms that are about 11 million degrees F and is a good wavelength for looking at solar flares, which can reach such high temperatures," Karen C. Fox from NASA Goddard Space Flight Center wrote on the agency website recently.

"By examining pictures of the sun in a variety of wavelengths – as is done through such telescopes as NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), NASA's Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory (STEREO) and the ESA/NASA Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) -- scientists can track how particles and heat move through the sun's atmosphere."

From the sun's surface on out, the wavelengths NASA studies, measured in Angstroms, are:

  • 4500: Showing the sun's surface or photosphere.
  • 1700: Shows surface of the sun, as well as a layer of the sun's atmosphere called the chromosphere, which lies just above the photosphere and is where the temperature begins rising.
  • 1600: Shows a mixture between the upper photosphere and what's called the transition region, a region between the chromosphere and the upper most layer of the sun's atmosphere called the corona. The transition region is where the temperature rapidly rises.
  • 304: This light is emitted from the chromosphere and transition region.
  • 171: This wavelength shows the sun's atmosphere, or corona, when it's quiet. It also shows giant magnetic arcs known as coronal loops.
  • 193: Shows a slightly hotter region of the corona, and also the much hotter material of a solar flare.
  • 211: This wavelength shows hotter, magnetically active regions in the sun's corona.
  • 335: This wavelength also shows hotter, magnetically active regions in the corona.
  • 94: This highlights regions of the corona during a solar flare.
  • 131: The hottest material in a flare.