Friday Fractal LXXIX: Solar Flares in Extreme UV

Summer around here must be coming to a close. The temperature has dropped and the kids are going back to school. Strangely, these circumstances have gotten me thinking more about the sun, rather than less. I blame my son... he came home after one of his first days at school talking about life on other planets. (Apparently, this week, he is aspiring to be an exobiologist. Previously, he wanted to be a pirate.) He asked what planets might have life and what they looked like, so I pulled out a book titled "Empire of the Sun: Planets and Moons of the Solar System" and we began to leaf through our solar system. Before I could go on to give him the full tour, introducing him to such curious places as Europa and Titan, he paused at an image of a vivid blue sphere. "What’s that?" he asked. "Could there be life there?"

"That’s the sun," I told him.

"Why is it blue?"

I tried to explain about the ultraviolet spectrum, and how we can’t see it, but the cameras we sent to the sun can, and how they show the light as blue so we can see it... but being a 2nd grader, his attention was already drawn on the next set of pictures. Later, when he wasn’t asking a thousand questions a minute, I returned to that picture of the sun, and thought about his original query. Certainly, the sun isn’t likely to host anything we could comfortably call life. But, in a sense, doesn’t it have a life of its own? One could argue that the whole solar system is some sort of life form, with the sun as a beating heart, pumping energy to the rest of the system. But this heart of the system doesn’t simply pulse with a set rhythm. With spots and flares, our dear sun is full of unpredictable personality.

"Empire of the Sun" was published in 1998, before the launch of the 3-D imaging telescope on board NASA's spacecraft, STEREO, specially designed to take pictures of solar flares. So, the image that caught my son’s eye was fuzzy and outdated by today’s standards. STEREO’s images show complex details, with explosions and swirling sunspots in shapes that could only be described as fractals.

Here, I tried to use fractal formulas to mimic that superb imaging. To do this, I basically just layered a few iterations of the same exponential formula that I made a wreath animation from last Christmas. The resulting image looks nothing like Christmas... or even how we usually picture our sun:

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A Fractal Sun with "Ultraviolet" Iterations in Color

...But, it does look remarkably similar to some of the first images STEREO sent back to Earth in 2006:

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The Sun, as imaged by STEREO’s SECCHI/Extreme Ultraviolet Imaging Telescope, on December 4, 2006.

One last curious fact: Sometimes, when I have my computer processing some complex fractal image, it begins to run a little hot. Doing this set, I realized a warm laptop is nothing... those plumes of boiling gas exploding from the surface of the sun range around 1.8 million degrees Fahrenheit. (Or 1 million Kelvin, if you prefer those rounder, neater numbers.)

Sun image via NASA, Fractals made using ChaosPro.

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Gee whiz, I wish my mom had pulled out some books on astronomy when I was young. hehe.