Twice a year, NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory does a good impression of a well-trained dog and performs a perfect 360-degree roll on command. The SDO takes an image of the sun every 12 seconds and it continues to do so during the maneuver. That's why we now have a stomach-flipping GIF showing the SDO's view of the sun during its rotation.
The purpose of the somersault is to help the observatory's Helioseismic and Magnetic Imager instrument accurately calibrate where the edge of the sun is located. It takes seven hours to complete the move. "HMI's biannual roll lets each part of the camera look at the entire perimeter of the sun, helping it map the sun's shape much more precisely," NASA notes.
The SDO sees in extreme ultraviolet wavelengths that aren't visible to the human eye, so researchers colorized the eye-popping image so we can tell what's going on. The maneuver took place July 6 and NASA released the animated GIF of the action on Friday.