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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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Close call: Earth spared from major geomagnetic storm?

February 17, 2011 Leave a comment

image of flares on sun

After reading all about the impending geomagnetic storm, I was about to yell “Duck!” when the latest reports started dribbling in. Earlier this week, solar flares sent coronal mass ejections (CMEs) hurtling toward Earth that could have fueled a major geomagnetic storms, lighting up the sky with auroras and interfering with satellite and radio communications.

Right now, it seems the event won’t be as intense as initially expected. But isn’t this the very reason why NASA has an extensive fleet of sun-watching spacecraft? We can’t forecast these events as well as we’d like to. maybe someday we will.

Most of these reports come from the wonderful Facebook page, The Sun Today: Solar Facts and Space Weather, involving Goddard scientists.



Sunday Feb. 13, 1:03 pm

BANG!! The Sun just fired off a M6.6 solar flare at 17:36 UT from sunspot group AR11158. Here is a composite image from SDO/AIA in the 94, 335 and 193 Angstrom wavelengths with the bright flare visible near the center of the solar disk. The biggest solar flare yet for 2011!

bang!



Feb. 14, 9:59 am

Yes as Greg stated the CME will most likely hit Earth on Tuesday (Feb. 15). The preliminary data from SOHO and STEREO show that the event is not particularly bright though it is fast. Aurora watchers at high latitudes should keep alert. The region that produced the event continues to grow in complexity indicating a good chance for more activity. (There have been several more C flares.


stereoshot_feb15



Tuesday, Feb 15, 11:22 am

Here is a image from the STEREO Behind spacecraft’s COR2 Coronagraph showing the CME leaving the Sun shortly after the X2.2 flare and coronal wave. The image is from 3:24UT, about 1 hour after the flare and wave. This data is from the beacon or STEREO space weather data so it is not full quality but it is available much sooner than the science data. We expect to have data from the SOHO LASCO coronagraphs soon.



Wednesday, Feb 16, 1:15 pm

CMEs are on their way! Over the past 3 days the Sun released 3 CMEs directed Earthward. The 1st from Feb. 13 is traveling ~400 km/s, the 2nd from Feb. 14 is traveling ~340 km/s and the 3rd from Feb. 15 is traveling ~800 km/s. We expect to see Aurora from these events starting tonight and tomorrow. High latitude Aurora watchers should keep an eye out.



aurora donut

Dick, Here is the aurora forecast for tonight along with a map. “Auroral activity will be active. Weather permitting, active auroral displays will be visible overhead from Inuvik, Yellowknife, Rankin and Igaluit to Juneau, Edmonton, Winnipeg and Sept-Iles, and visible low on the horizon from Vancouver, Great Falls, Pierre, Madison, Lansing, Ottawa, Portland and St. Johns AND as far south as Anchorage, Alaska, Trondheim, Norway and Igarka, Russia, and visible low on the horizon in Montreal, Stockholm, Helsinki and Yakutsk, Russia.” I will respond to your question about the Dec. 13 event tomorrow. I hope you are able to see some aurora. -Alex



Thursday, Feb. 17: TODAY

AURORA WATCH:

NOAA has slightly downgraded the chance of geomagnetic activity on Feb. 17th to 35%. Those are still good odds, however, so high-latitude sky watchers should be alert for auroras.



The Los Angeles Times said this morning. . .

Solar flare radiation expected to hit starting today: The largest solar flare in four years erupted Monday. Its radiation is expected to reach Earth today and Friday and perhaps interfere with communication systems, power grids and navigation satellites. It might also enhance the northern lights.



The AFP.com news service says. . .

WASHINGTON – A wave of charged plasma particles from a huge solar eruption has glanced off the Earth’s northern pole, lighting up auroras and disrupting some radio communications, a NASA scientist said. But the Earth appears to have escaped a widespread geomagnetic storm, with the effects confined to the northern latitudes, possibly reaching down into Norway and Canada. “There can be sporadic outages based on particular small-scale events,” said Dean Persnell, project scientist at NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory at Goddard Space Flight Center.

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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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"Ask A Scientist" about the STEREO mission's New 360 degree view of our home star on Twitter

February 9, 2011 2 comments

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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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Categories: Solar System, STEREO, The Sun Tags: , , ,

Get ready for the STEREO "Ask a Scientist" Q&A on Twitter today

February 9, 2011 Leave a comment

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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Categories: STEREO, The Sun

Super sun-day, as brought to you by NASA's STEREO mission

February 6, 2011 2 comments



full disk view of sun from space


Judging by past Superbowl Sundays, more than 90 million people in the United States will tune into today’s sacred event at any moment. (If you have a hunger for trivial statistics, up to 116 million watched a Doritos ad during last year’s game.) That means at least one American will have watched today’s event for every mile (93 million on average) between Earth and the sun!

Well, that’s still a pretty long way, so we puny humans rely on a fleet of sun-observing spacecraft to tell us what we need to know about our home stars, from how much energy it pumps into the climate system to when we need to batten down the hatches for the latest solar storm.

Today, NASA’s twin STEREO spacecraft reached opposite sides of the sun. For the first time in human history, we can see the entire star at the same time. It’s taken quote a bit of orbital maneuverings to get here since STEREO launched in late 2006.

A crack team of NASA video producers and science writers have created a series of press releases and videos to mark STEREO’s big day. They tell the story far better than I could in mere nouns and verbs. Here’s the goods:









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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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Categories: Space Weather, STEREO, The Sun

Here comes the sun in STEREO II: Sun watching through time

February 4, 2011 Leave a comment






Here’s the latest teaser video about the orbital alignment that will allow NASA’s twin STEREO spacecraft to observe both hemispheres of the sun, simultaneously, for the first time since launch. NASA will release the new images at a press conference Sunday, Feb. 6, at 11 a.m. EST.

Seeing the whole sun front and back simultaneously will enable
significant advances in space weather forecasting for Earth, and
improve planning for future robotic or crewed spacecraft missions
throughout the solar system.



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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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Categories: Solar System, STEREO, The Sun

Here Comes the Sun in STEREO

January 27, 2011 Leave a comment



For the past 4 years, the two STEREO spacecraft have been moving away from Earth and gaining a more complete picture of the sun. On Feb. 6, 2011, NASA will hold a press conference to reveal the first ever images of the entire sun and discuss the importance of seeing all of our dynamic star.


Let me bottom-line it for you: The Solar TErrestrial RElations Observatory (STEREO) mission consists of two nearly identical spacecraft. One follows Earth around the sun; the other leads us. When those two craft are 180 degrees apart from each other, they will be able to see the ENTIRE sun simultaneously.

The time has almost come.

Below is a screen shot I took from the STEREO website. As you can see, Stereo A and Stereo B are almost 180 degrees from each other — on opposite sides of the sun — and 90 degrees from Earth. The orbits have been migrating gradually into this configuration for years, since the mission’s 2006 launch.


map of stereo spacecraft orbital positions around the sun

You’ll be hearing much more about this from NASA and gogblog as we approach February 9.
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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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Categories: STEREO, The Sun Tags: ,

Plasma mega-snake on the sun!

December 6, 2010 6 comments

close up image of solar filament

This just in from our “Solar Dynamics Observatory is blowing my mind” department — and SpaceWeather.com:  a plasma mega-snake on the sun.

A magnetic filament snaking around the sun’s southeast limb just keeps getting longer. The portion visible today stretches more than 700,000 km–a full solar radius. NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory took this picture during the early hours of Dec. 6th. The STEREO-B spacecraft, stationed over the sun’s eastern horizon, saw this filament coming last week. So far the massive structure has hovered quietly above the stellar surface, but now it is showing signs of instability. Long filaments like this one have been known to collapse with explosive results when they hit the stellar surface below. Stay tuned for action.



solar-snake-fulldisk_600
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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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STEREO's swirly sun

December 3, 2010 4 comments

As NASA’s STEREO (Ahead) spacecraft watched over about 2.5 days in extreme ultraviolet light (Nov. 23-25, 2010), plasma tendrils and filaments swirled and unfurled at the sun’s edges. Nothing unusual here; it’s just our unquiet sun doing its thing.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________ 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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Categories: STEREO, The Sun Tags: ,

The Sun Gets Loopy (again): Blogolicious Image of the Day

September 28, 2010 2 comments

This week the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) “Pick of the Week” offers a video clip of a massive loop of hot plasma caught by one of NASA’s twin STEREO spacecraft. Here’s a video loop of the event, compressing hours of time into a few seconds.

http://www.youtube.com/v/dLqfcHE95V0?fs=1&hl=en_US

Says the SOHO website:

The STEREO (Ahead) spacecraft watched as an eruptive prominence near the back of the Sun arched up but then headed back to the Sun’s surface over a few hours (Sept. 19, 2010). Prominence eruptions occur fairly frequently and with both STEREO spacecraft now able to see most of the Sun, we do observe more of them.



And one great prominence deserves another. Check out this whopper from back in April:

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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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