NASA captures hidden light shows on the sun’s outermost layer

By Stacy Liberatore for

23:10 February 13, 2023, updated 23:10 February 13, 2023

NASA has observed never-before-seen light shows emitted by the sun.

Using the Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR), the US space agency has captured a variety of X-rays emitted by the hottest material in our star’s atmosphere.

High-energy X-rays were observed in only a few places, while low-energy X-rays and ultraviolet light were detected over the entire surface of the gas ball.

Scientists hope the new views will help them solve one of the Sun’s biggest mysteries: why its outer atmosphere reaches more than a million degrees — at least 100 times hotter than its surface.

NASA has shared a new image of the Sun revealing hidden light shows at its outermost layer, the corona

NuSTAR usually spends its time studying the mysteries of black holes, supernovae, and other high-energy objects in space, but it can also look closer to home to study our Sun.

The high-energy X-rays seen by NuSTAR are shown in blue, while green represents the lower-energy X-rays from the X-ray telescope instrument on the Hinode spacecraft, named for the Japanese word for sunrise.

And the red colors show ultraviolet light from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory.

NuSTAR collected 25 images of the Sun last June, allowing NASA to stitch together a single image showing different colored lights radiating from the surface.

NASA also collected observations from the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency’s Hinode mission, shown in green, and from the Solar Dynamics Observatory, which captured ultraviolet light in red.

While astronomers are baffled as to the source of the heat from the corona, the sun’s outermost layer, they speculate that it could come from small flares in the sun’s atmosphere called nanoflares.

Flares are large bursts of heat, light, and particles visible to a variety of solar observatories.

While nanoflares are much smaller events, both types produce material even hotter than the corona’s average temperature.

The high-energy X-rays seen by NuSTAR are shown in blue
The green represents lower-energy X-rays from the X-ray telescope instrument on the Hinode spacecraft, named for the Japanese word for sunrise
The red colors show ultraviolet light from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory

NASA said in a statement that regular flares are not frequent enough to keep the corona at the high temperatures observed by scientists, but nanoflares may occur much more frequently — perhaps often enough to collectively heat the corona.

Individual nanoflares went undetected due to the sun’s glare, but NuSTAR can detect light from the high-temperature material, which is thought to form when large numbers of nanoflares occur in close proximity to one another.

With this ability, physicists can study how frequently nanoflares occur and how they release energy.

That month, NASA also made another exciting discovery when it watched a piece of the sun’s north pole break off.

Space weather researcher Tamitha Skov shared a video on Twitter and said NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory captured the clip.

“Talk about polar vortices! Material from a northern prominence has just separated from the main filament and is now circulating in a massive polar vortex around our star’s north pole,” Skov shared in the tweet.

NASA describes solar filaments as clouds of charged particles floating above the sun and bound to it by magnetic forces.

These appear as elongated, uneven strands that shoot out from the Sun’s surface.

The prominence mentioned by Skov appears every 11 years at exactly the 55th parallel around the Sun’s polar crowns.

Solar physicist Scott McIntosh, associate director of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, told, “Once every solar cycle, it forms at the 55th parallel and begins marching toward the sun’s poles.

A piece of the sun broke off this month and is circling the North Pole like a tornado. This is the first time scientists have observed such an event

“It’s very strange. There’s a big why question. Why does it move towards the pole only once and then disappear and then magically come back three or four years later in the very same region?’

While astronomers have previously observed filaments detaching from the Sun, this is the first time one has orbited the region in a cyclone.

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