Sci-Tech

Ravishing space image shows a different kind of 'sunflower'

Hot tubes of plasma align on the sun's surface in a flower-like pattern to provide a gorgeous view captured at New Jersey's Big Bear Solar Observatory.

solar-fibrils.jpg
The flower-like pattern in an active region of the sun's surface is caused by fibrils, tubes of hot plasma. Big Bear Solar Obs., NJIT, Alan Friedman (Averted Imagination)

Think "sun" and "flower" and you're likely to think of those tall, yellow-topped beauties that fill fields and backyards in the summer months. But an image that NASA featured as its "Astronomy Picture of the Day" (APOD) on Tuesday is cause for reevaluating that particular combination of words.

The image, which was produced by amateur astro-photographer Alan Friedman and the Big Bear Solar Observatory in New Jersey, shows active solar region 2177. Active solar regions are those that exhibit especially strong magnetic fields, and they're where flares and sunspots are found.

The items in the image that make it look flower-like are "magnetically confined tubes of hot plasma called fibrils, some of which extend longer the diameter of the Earth," according to the description accompanying the image. The description was co-written by Robert J. Nemiroff, a professor of astronomy and astrophysics at the University of Pennsylvania, and Jerry T. Bonnell, an astrophysicist at the NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center.

The area at the center of the shot -- the part that looks like the heart of the flower -- is a result of seeing the fibrils stacked upright. The more petal-like areas show the fibrils on their side.

"Big Bear Solar Observatory made the raw data for this image available via the Facebook group Solaractivity. I provided the image processing, contrast enhancements and colorization," Friedman told Crave of the image that was created in October 2014, but just posted to the APOD site on Tuesday. Friedman says he used a specific filter that focused on hydrogen and then colorized and inverted the image. The original shot can be seen here.

In case you want to know a bit more about Friedman, who's now had 18 different images featured as the APOD, here's a TedX talk that will fill you in.