NARRATOR: When you think of space exploration, what comes to mind? For many of us, it’s images of powerful rockets and hi-tech satellites.
Or maybe it’s the people who operate all that expensive equipment–brilliant and dedicated astronauts, scientists, and engineers.
But don’t assume you need advanced degrees or specialized training to experience some key NASA’s missions firsthand.
In fact, with nothing more than a computer and a good internet connection, you can use the Helioviewer, a tool built by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.
The Helioviewer serves up raw solar images, constantly updated, from space telescopes like STEREO, SOHO, and the incredible new SDO.
With it, you can investigate a big solar event in the past, study a particular region of the Sun, or just see what’s happening on our local star today. Who knows, you might be the first to spot a solar storm as it’s forming…
Whatever your interest, the Helioviewer lets you choose when and how to observe the Sun–with the same solar telescopes the professionals use every day.
Of course, a tool this powerful can seem a little complicated at first. So the Sun Lab starts with two guided research projects that will help you get familiar with the Helioviewer while learning to read what’s happening on the Sun.
The first one, focusing on the solar cycle, shows you how to identify sunspots, early indications that storms might be brewing.
We’ve selected the dates, times, and instruments for you – pulling up great examples of sunspot activity from the recent past. Zooming in, you’ll count both groups and individuals spots, then see how your estimates compare with what the scientists got.
In the second investigation, you’ll learn to predict which sunspot regions are most likely to generate solar storms.
Once again, we’ve picked the date, time and the instruments you’ll see. Your job is to analyze two regions as they evolve, predict which one will erupt, and then find out what really happened.
In the third investigation, you’re in command. This is your chance to put your curiosity and powers of scientific observation to work.
Come up with a question, figure out what you need to see, and go get it.
First, pick the date and time range of the event you’re interested in.
Next, choose your instrument. Here’s an example of using SDO’s AIA telescope to see what’s happening in the super-hot corona, or atmosphere of the Sun.
Finally, select a wavelength of light to observe. This will determine which layer of the Sun you see, because hotter regions emit light with more energy than cooler ones.
But remember that the higher the wavelength number, the cooler the region. That’s because light waves carrying more energy are more tightly packed, with a smaller distance between each peak.
To document what you’ve done, you can capture pictures, make movies, and share them with fellow researchers in our Social Feed.
So give the Sun Lab a try. Right now there are billions of dollars worth of solar telescopes are hard at work, gathering images for your own personal solar exploration.