Backyard Observatory

NASA Made an Incredible 10-Year Time Lapse of the Sun's Fiery Rotation

It's a gorgeous look at a decade of the sun's life.

sun time lapse video
NASA Goddard

Everyone — at least, pretty much everyone — knows you shouldn't stare at the sun. It's dangerous. That's unfortunate, in a sense, because there's a lot to see, and the sun not only sustains life on Earth, but it's beautiful

This month marks a full decade of NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) doing the staring at the sun for us. It's been studying the star closest to Earth non-stop from orbit, gathering 425 million high-resolution images since June 2010. That's almost as many photos as your Instagram-obsessed friend has taken on their phone in that time. 

The data collected has helped scientists make many discoveries, but for those of us scrolling the internet for some kind of good news, NASA has turned the observations into something fun. NASA has compiled the images from the SDO to make a stunning time-lapse of the star's activity over the last 10 years. 

The time-lapse assembles images taken at a wavelength of 17.1 nanometers, per NASA's announcement, which is "an extreme ultraviolet wavelength that shows the sun's outermost atmospheric layer — the corona." The movie compiles a photo every hour, with dark slides "caused by the Earth or the moon eclipsing SDO as they pass between the spacecraft and the sun."

The full video lasts 61 minutes, showcasing the sun's 11-year solar cycle with its rise and fall in activity. The shift in solar activity can be clearly seen as the number of swelling solar spots increase to explosive levels with violent whips of magnetic field lines and plasma called solar flares. It then calms down again to a period known as solar minimum when the amount of solar activity is relatively low. That's a period we're in now, with one result being that the northern lights are less frequently seen in lower latitudes. 

It's stunning to see from our perspective even if a decade is little more than a blip in the life of a star.

Ready to go stargazing?

Here are all the best stargazing events that you can get out and see this month or you could stay in a stream the northern lights from home. If you're just getting started, check out our guide to astronomy for beginners

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Dustin Nelson is a Senior Staff Writer at Thrillist. Follow him @dlukenelson.