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Our Presto-Chango Multiwavelength Sun

December 9, 2011 Leave a comment

multi-sun_580

Steele Hill, NASA Goddard’s salesman of all things solar, just posted his latest weekly release of imagery, courtesy of NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory. Steele creates the still images and video snippets for use in science museums and other public places. Here is his descriptive text for the image and video in this post.

NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory’s images of this Sun (Dec. 7, 2011) taken at almost the same time in several wavelengths at different temperatures and layers of the Sun. In addition, we superimposed an illustration of the Sun’s magnetic field lines to the view. We start off looking at the 6,000 degrees C. photosphere that shows the various sunspots on the “surface” of the Sun. Then, we transition into the region between the chromosphere and the corona, at about 1 million degrees C. where, in extreme UV light, the active regions appear lighter. We phase in a composite of three different wavelengths showing temperatures up to 2 million degrees C. To top it off, we overlay a science-based estimation of the complex magnetic field lines (partly made visible in the first UV image) extending from and connecting the active regions before going back to the sunspot image. 
Who says the Sun is boring?


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OH AND DID I MENTION? All opinions and opinionlike objects in this blog are mine alone and NOT those of NASA or Goddard Space Flight Center. And while we’re at it, links to websites posted on this blog do not imply endorsement of those websites by NASA.

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Helioviewer's future: an Internet for solar image data

Post 1 of 5: Explore the sun on your desktop with Helioviewer
Post 2 of 5: Getting Started with Helioviewer.org
Post 3 of 5: Explore the sun in depth with JHelioviewer
Post 4 of 5: How it works: building the Helioviewer “back end” with JPEG2000
Post 5 of 5: Helioviewer’s future: an Internet for solar image data


New interactive visualization tools developed by the NASA/European Space Agency (ESA) Helioviewer Project allow scientists and the general public to explore images captured by solar observing spacecraft. Previous posts explained the origins and aims of the Helioviewer Project, and the basics of a Web-based app called Helioviewer.org. This final post in the series looks at the what’s coming next from the Helioviewer Project.

image of sun surface

So far, solar scientists who have seen the Helioviewer Project’s Web app (Helioviewer.org) and downloadable software (JHelioviewer) are intrigued, says Helioviewer Project co-founder Jack Ireland. “The reaction has been, ‘This is really cool; I’d like to see more.'”

Citizen scientists have begun to play with the tools, too. A growing number of time-lapse solar videos made using Helioviewer are now found on YouTube. Check out this tornado-like  feature on the sun by a non-scientist playing with Helioviewer.org and uploaded to YouTube. (It’s actually electrically charged plasma caught up in twisted magnetic fields.)

“We didn’t find this,” Ireland says. “Some member of the public, some citizen scientist, found this.”

So what’s next? Here are some new things to look for as the Helioviewer Project goes forward.

Access to raw data
Right now, you can view and visualize solar images in Helioviewer.org and JHelioviewerbut do not have direct access to the actual raw instrument data. The JHelioviewer team wants to change that. In future, it should be possible to click a link and download the actual raw data files being visualized, so scientists could work with them locally.

The Solar Dynamics Observatory image files (about 1Mb in size) that Helioviewer.org and JHelioviewer use are highly compressed versions of the raw Flexible Image Transport System (FITS) files, the most commonly used digital file format in astronomy. These FITS files, which astronomers use to do their research, are a whopping 64 Mb in size.

Global data sharing
Right now, all the solar images accessible to Helioviewer.org and JHelioviewer reside on Goddard’s servers. That’s mainly because some amount of pre-processing is required for the images to integrate seamlessly.

But Ireland and  the Helioviewer Project’s co-founders Keith Hughitt and Daniel Müller, hope to see Helioviewer evolve into a more distributed system, able to access multiple archives of solar images residing at different locations in the world.

“What you want is for the databases to talk to each other,” Ireland says. “So when I got to the Goddard database and say, ‘Hey, I want this kind of data,’ it says ‘I don’t have it, but this guy over here has it.’ That’s a distributed system.”

So, repositories in Europe could host images from satellites other than SDO, SOHO, or STEREO, or even archives of images from ground-based observatories. It would be like creating a parallel Internet for solar image data. Another way to look at it is as the equivalent of a live global broadcast on CNN. Different streams of solar images could be viewed and manipulated in Helioviewer.org or JHelioviewer, the way live feeds a network of correspondents around the world is combined in CNN’s studio in Atlanta.

Social annotation
The Helioviewer Project would also like to add “social annotation,” allowing individuals and groups to link comments, labels, and other forms of metadata to solar images. An individual could create, for example, a personal database of features of interest. Or groups of scientists and students could collectively share their annotations.

“The final level,” Hughitt says, “would be that kind of global level where you find something interesting and you want to share it with everyone — you don’t really care who — and that would go to some global feed where anyone could find it.”

Sound familiar? It’s the same concept behind the Google Earth system of layers or “skins” that users create. People share annotations consisting of locations, geographical features, businesses, landmarks, shipwrecks on the ocean floor — whatever — in the form of downloadable .kmz files that can be opened in the Google Earth browser. Ireland and Hughitt imagine similar capabilities coming to Helioviewer.

Make new apps
JHelioviewer is based on an open-source architecture. That means all the information and tools needed to build new functionality in the software — collectively known as its Application Program Interface, or API — are freely available. New functions could come in the form of downloadable mini-programs called plug ins. JHelioviewer was written to make this easy.

“One key thing that has not been used a lot yet, but could become more useful in the future, is that JHelioviewer has its own plug-in architecture,” Hughitt says. “So anybody interested could write their own functions and build them into JHelioviewer.”

Scientists, for example, could write a plug-in to bring data from a ground based solar observatory into JHelioviewer, or search for some pattern or feature of interest. Or imagine a plug-in that allows school kids to run a contest for who can find the most solar flares.

It would also be possible to rig JHelioviewer to browse image data from planets and moons. Now that the basic back-end infrastructure is in place, virtually anything users can dream up is possible.

In a pilot study, Helioviewer Project co-founder Daniel Müller is working with medical doctor Carlos Moro from the Karolinska University Hospital in Stockholm, Sweden, to create a plug-in for JHelioviewer that will allow doctors to view and annotate high-resolution microscopy samples of human tissue. As a spin-off, this plug-in will also be able to access and browse the vast archive of gigapixel images returned by the HiRISE telescope onboard NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Observatory.

“Who knows what people can create?” Ireland says. “There’s only one way to find out. We have this infrastructure now that can show you the sun using as many different kinds of data as possible. So the next question is, ‘What can we do with all these images?’ Helioviewer.org and JHelioviewer are just two of the possible applications.”




LEARN MORE

Helioviewer.org (Web app)

A collection of video highlights from 2011 (so far) created by Helioviewer.org users.

See a Helioviewer.org video made by “citizen scientist” LudzikLegoTechnics on YouTube.

The Helioviewer Project Wiki

JHelioviewer (downloadable software)

Read a Web feature about JHelioviewer and its capabilities

The JHelioviewer online handbook

JHelioviewer video tutorial on YouTube HD

ESA Web feature about JHelioviewer.

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OH AND DID I MENTION? All opinions and opinionlike objects in this blog are mine alone and NOT those of NASA or Goddard Space Flight Center. And while we’re at it, links to websites posted on this blog do not imply endorsement of those websites by NASA.


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How it works: Building the Helioviewer "back end" with JPEG2000

Post 1 of 5: Explore the sun on your desktop with Helioviewer
Post 2 of 5: Getting Started with Helioviewer.org
Post 3 of 5: Explore the sun in depth with JHelioviewer
Post 4 of 5: How it works: building the Helioviewer “back end” with JPEG2000


New interactive visualization tools developed by the NASA/European Space Agency (ESA) Helioviewer Project allow scientists and the general public to explore images captured by solar observing spacecraft. Previous posts explained the origins and aims of the Helioviewer Project, and the basics of a Web-based app called Helioviewer.org. This post looks at the behind-the-scenes technology that makes Helioviewer possible.

The Solar Dynamics Observatory captures hi-def images of the sun and beams them down to Earth at a rate of one every few seconds.

The Solar Dynamics Observatory beams data to Earth at a rate of 150 Mb per second.


The Helioviewer.org Web app and the JHelioviewer software are the on-screen interfaces that users see. But there is also a critical data-processing “back end” that required just as much effort to develop. The challenge was this: How do you acquire and manipulate solar images quickly enough so that the process is truly “real time,” without long waiting times for downloads and glacial refresh rates on the image view every time you make a change, like zooming in on a feature of interest?

This is particularly challenging when working with high-resolution images from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory. SDO sends down images that are 4,000 by 4,000 pixels, approximately the same number of pixels as in a 13 by 13 inch photographic print.

Google Maps and Google Earth overcame this issue by “tiling” large images into a checkerboard of smaller segments that could be quickly assembled into an image at the scale a user requested.

A Google Maps for the sun
The prototype of Helioviewer took this approach, too, following Google’s lead. “Google Maps was the original inspiration for it,” Helioviewer Project co-founder Jack Ireland says.

In the prototype of Helioviewer.org, each stage of a zoom-in required a complete set of tiles. The system retrieved the tiles it needed to build the view requested by the user with every click of the mouse. The trouble is, as you zoom in it requires an ever-increasing number of small tiles (numbering in the hundreds) to build the new image. Each tile is a separate file, and they all have to be labeled, stored, and pulled from storage and assembled when needed.

Then Helioviewer met JPEG2000, a standard for compressing images to make them extremely small while maintaining very good image quality. Also, JPEG2000 can extract sub-regions of the compressed image file without having to open the whole file.

In other words, the system generates only the part of the image you really want to see. If you have ever downloaded or extracted a very large compressed image file, you understand the time saving that JPEG2000 offers.

“One thing that changed early on that made a huge difference and made all this really possible is that we use this JPEG2000 technology,” Helioviewer Project co-founder Keith Hughitt explains. “Instead of generating all the possible tiles for every single image, we wait until the user asks for a tile and generate it right then, and only generate the ones we need. We were able to develop a way to do that quickly enough that you can do it right on the Web page.”

Data pipeline from Palo Alto
Lockheed Martin’s Solar and Astrophysics Laboratory, based  in Palo Alto, California, that built the Atmospheric Imaging Instrument aboard SDO, uses JPEG2000 to compress every third new SDO image (i.e. one every few seconds) and then sends them through a data pipeline to Goddard. The image can be available on Helioviewer’s server at Goddard in as little as 20 minutes.

The system needs to store this one compressed master file, not hundreds of tiles. That one image file — or a portion of it — can be quickly decompressed and displayed at the resolution needed.

For example, as you click the little “plus sign” icon on Helioviewer to zoom in on a flare on the surface of the sun, the back end of the system decompresses the same file multiple times at increasing resolution — like a telephoto lens capturing an image at ever higher magnification — and displays it on your computer screen.

This “on the fly” manipulation also applies to time-lapse videos made with JHelioviewer. “JHelioviewer tells the server which portion of the images it is interested in, and the video-stream is updated in real time so that only those bits are transmitted back to JHelioviewer,” Hughitt explains. “The result is a sort of ‘dynamic’ movie stream that you can create, and then adjust as you are playing it.”

This means that as the video plays, you can zoom, pan, sharpen, brighten, or follow a specific feature across the sun. If you choose to download the video, the server renders the final product at whatever settings you choose.

If not for JPEG2000, you would need to download an entirely new version of the video – amounting to gigabytes of data – every time you made a change.  Another way of saying this is “the Web back in the 1990s.”



LEARN MORE

Helioviewer.org (Web app)

A collection of video highlights from 2011 (so far) created by Helioviewer.org users.

See a Helioviewer.org video made by “citizen scientist” LudzikLegoTechnics on YouTube.

The Helioviewer Project Wiki

JHelioviewer (downloadable software)

Read a Web feature about JHelioviewer and its capabilities

The JHelioviewer online handbook

JHelioviewer video tutorial on YouTube HD

ESA Web feature about JHelioviewer.

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________
OH AND DID I MENTION? All opinions and opinionlike objects in this blog are mine alone and NOT those of NASA or Goddard Space Flight Center. And while we’re at it, links to websites posted on this blog do not imply endorsement of those websites by NASA.


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