NASA told its Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) to do a barrel roll, and it listened. The result is an incredible collection of photos that, when assembled together into an animation, appear to show our sun spinning in space at crazy-fast speeds. Though the spin is shown at a rapid clip, the SDO’s actual rotation took place over the course of seven hours, with one photo being captured every 12 seconds during that time.
According to NASA, the animation you see below is the result of an order NASA engineers send to the Solar Dynamics Observatory on July 6. The SDO was instructed to roll a full 360-degree, doing so on only one axis. The roll then happened over the course of seven hours while the camera continued to snap photos.
The images were taken by the Atmospheric Imaging Assembling instrument located on the SDO; according to the space agency, the content was captured in “extreme ultraviolet wavelengths” which you wouldn’t ordinarily be able to see with the naked eye. Those wavelengths were colored the beautiful gold-yellow color you see above for visibility.
It’s an astounding capture, but not one that entirely rare — NASA has the SDO perform this roll twice per year so that an instrument called the Helioseismic and Magnetic Imager can take specific measurements of certain aspects of the sun. This is necessary due to the non-spherical nature of the sun and its ever-changing surface, which can produce distortions. The images captured during this roll enable the SDO’s instrument to note the sun’s shape and provides more precise data.