From our perspective on Earth, the sun doesn’t appear to be up to much, other than shining. But there’s quite a bit of action taking place on our nearest star, including solar flares and huge explosions of plasma in Earth’s direction that can interfere with satellites.
Over a course of three years, NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory caught all that activity on camera, keeping its lens focused on the sun without interruption. In a three-minute video released by one of NASA’s YouTube channels, viewers can explore those full three years in the life of the sun, in all their sizzling, bubbling, exploding glory.
The timelapse video brings to life two images snapped of the sun per day, during a period when the sun moved toward its "solar maximum, the peak of solar activity in its regular 11-year cycle," according to the description on YouTube. Highlights in the video include two partial eclipses by the moon, the transit of Venus, and the passing of Comet Lovejoy in December 2011.
While visually stunning, the work of the SDO goes beyond aesthetics. The aircraft is the most advanced piece of technology used to study variations on the surface of the sun, which produces "space weather." Changes in solar radiation, emitted into space, can cause satelittles to malfunction and disrupt GPS and other telecommunications signals. "[G]limpses into the violent dance on the sun help scientists understand what causes these giant explosions—with the hopes of someday improving our ability to predict this space weather," according to NASA.