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NASA's solar observatory marks 100 millionth image

The Solar Dynamics Observatory celebrates five years of sun-worshipping by releasing its impressive 100 millionth image of our closest star.

SDO 100 millionth image
The Solar Dynamics Observatory's 100 millionth image of the sun taken by the Atmospheric Imaging Assembly. NASA/SDO/AIA/LMSAL

The Solar Dynamics Observatory first stared into the depths of the sun when it launched in early 2010. NASA tasked the SDO with studying that giant fiery ball of star that helps make our very existence on Earth possible. Over the course of five years, the observatory has delivered memorable data and images, ranging from the sun making a jack-o'-lantern face to footage of massive solar flares.

A new landmark was reached when NASA released the observatory's 100 millionth image of the sun, taken January 19. The image was captured by the Atmospheric Imaging Assembly, an instrument that NASA describes as using "four telescopes working parallel to gather eight images of the sun -- cycling through 10 different wavelengths -- every 12 seconds."

The SDO generates 1.5 terabytes of data each day, with about half of that coming from the Atmospheric Imaging Assembly. It's a busy instrument, cranking out 57,600 images every day.

The 100 millionth image is a lovely one, showing swirling waves of activity in the solar atmosphere. The dark spots are coronal holes, areas of lower gas levels, that are constantly shifting and reshaping. The SDO data is helping scientists understand what causes changes across the sun and how it impacts Earth.

NASA also created a mosaic of the 100 millionth image, using previous images the observatory has captured in extreme ultraviolet light. Each tile in the mosaic is 50 pixels across.

SDO 100 millionth image mosaic
This mosaic of the 100 millionth Atmospheric Imaging Assembly image consists of many other Solar Dynamics Observatory images. NASA/SDO/Mosaic created with AndreaMosaic