Science and Exploration

It’s Science and Art, the Solar Data Van Gogh Effect

By Marc Boucher
July 19, 2012
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It’s Science and Art, the Solar Data Van Gogh Effect
It's science and art.

According to NASA it’s pure science and not art. But when Nicholeen Viall, a solar scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center created a new data visualization technique, the resulting solar images were reminiscent of a Van Gogh painting.
Using raw solar data from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) and needing to represent it in a understandable manner, researchers often visualize the data through graphs and images. In the case of Viall’s new technique, the result was not just informative but beautiful.

According to NASA, Viall wanted to look at SDO’s in a different perspective. “SDO’s Atmospheric Imaging Assembly (AIA) provides images of the sun in 10 different wavelengths, each approximately corresponding to a single temperature of material. Therefore, when one looks at the wavelength of 171 Angstroms, for example, one sees all the material in the sun’s atmosphere that is a million degrees Kelvin. By looking at an area of the sun in different wavelengths, one can get a sense of how different swaths of material change temperature. If an area seems bright in a wavelength that shows a hotter temperature an hour before it becomes bright in a wavelength that shows a cooler temperature, one can gather information about how that region has changed over time.”

The technique involved using 12 hours of data representing the history of cooling and heating at a particular spot on the sun. Each color pixel represents a moment in that 12 hour period. NASA says that the heat history holds clues to the mechanisms that drive the temperature and movements of the sun’s atmosphere.

The images Viall’s created show that over a 12-hour period the material appears to be cooling. For there to be cooling there must have been heating going in the process as well. But Viall’s images don’t show the steady heating expected. The conclusion is that the heating happens so quickly that it doesn’t show up in the images. According to NASA this supports those theories that say nanobursts of energy help heat the corona.

More images and video are available from the NASA Goddard web site.

SpaceRef co-founder, entrepreneur, writer, podcaster, nature lover and deep thinker.