From high-resolution satellite photographs of our planet to ultraviolet imagery of the Sun, NASA and the high-tech tools in its arsenal has produced a number of spectacular videos over the years. Some are historical, others enlightening, and some are simply stunning to behold.
Here are 10 NASA videos that you must see.
Set Fire to the Rain
NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory captured this footage of what some may call the universe’s deadliest rainbow. More than just an optical illusion, this fiery loop consists of actual material raining down onto the Sun.
If the rain’s pattern reminds you of Earth’s magnetic field, it should. What we’re looking at is material that erupted out of the Sun and into space, cooling within the Sun’s atmosphere – or corona – and falling back in the form of plasma along magnetic field lines. We call this phenomenon coronal rain.
The footage shows the Earth to offer a sense of the impressive scale of the fiery loop, which could have more than enveloped our planet. Each second in the video represents six minutes of real time.
The Blue Marble
With images and footage taken from orbit, NASA allows us to see our planet from a perspective that no one had ever seen a century ago. This video, compiled from satellite images, data visualization, computer models, and time lapse photos from the International Space Station, reveals the beauty of our living planet – and the hidden beauty of its complex systems.
The Sun’s Highlight Reel
NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory has been keeping an eye on the Sun since 2010, and this video is a highlight reel of some of the most spectacular footage it captured during its fourth year orbiting our planet. The different colors we see aren’t a stylistic choice, but rather represent the different wavelengths the SDO captures, each revealing features at different temperatures, many of which would be invisible to the naked eye.
Feel free to skip ahead to 2:30 on this one and behold a recreation of the first ever “Earthrise” witnessed by humans. Listen to the actual onboard audio of the Apollo 8 astronauts in December 1968 and image yourself alongside them, fumbling about for that roll of color film.
Unlike sunrises on Earth, Earthrises seen from the moon are very slow – it takes about 48 hours for the Earth to clear its diameter.
Coronal Mass Ejection
Here we see a long filament of solar material erupting out into space at over 900 miles per second. Called a Coronal Mass Ejection, the eruption is a massive burst of solar wind and magnetic fields rising above the Sun’s atmosphere and released into space. These eruptions can occur as often as three times per day, or as seldom as one every five days. The ejected material is plasma consisting mostly of electrons and protons.
Venus’ Final Transit in our Lifetime
When a planet passes between the Earth and the Sun, we call this a transit. Venus’ transit is the rarest predictable solar event, and this footage captures the planet’s 2012 journey – a journey it will not make again until the year 2117. If you are reading this in the year 2014, you will not be alive to witness Venus’ next transit, and an entire generation may be born and die before anyone else does. In a few short minutes, this simple, understated footage and its accompanying orchestrals say more about the fleeting nature of human existence than a thousand philosophers have in a thousand years.
Three Years of Sun in Three Minutes
Three years of footage from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory compressed into a three minute video offers us a fascinating sense of the Sun’s 3D structure. More than just an amorphous glob of fire, the Sun has features that you can track during its 25 day rotation, which corresponds to a little over three seconds in the video.
The Death of Comet ISON
Let’s have a moment of silence for comet ISON, discovered in September 2012, fully disintegrated by December 2, 2013. As ISON neared the Sun, heat and gravitational forces destroyed the comet just hours before it reached perihelion – the closest point in its orbit around the Sun, after which it would have whisked off to safety and continued its voyage. Yes, just like the tragic Icarus, ISON flew too close to the Sun, and this footage offers a glimpse at its final days.
SDO’s First Images
No sweeping music accompanies this compilation video of the Sun; its historicity affords all the pomp it needs. The video showcases some of the first imagery and data sent back from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, whose five-year mission is to better our understanding of the influence of the Sun on the Earth.
Sarychev Peak has a habit of erupting every decade or so, and the International Space Station happened to be flying overhead when it spewed an ash plume high into the sky on July 12, 2009. The Russian volcano, located in the Kuril Islands northeast of Japan, is believed to have released a shockwave that blasted a hole in the cloud cover, offering the ISS a clear view of the roiling plume capped by a pileus cloud – the same type of cloud seen atop the mushroom clouds of some high-yield nuclear detonations. The ash plume cast shadows on the clouds below it, disrupted air traffic, and offered us a spectacle for the ages.