It takes only 30 seconds to watch a new video released by NASA that shows the sun rotating to reveal a large sunspot. But the mesmerizing footage, captured by the agency’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, seems to go on much longer, drawing viewers in with the majestic view and sustained motion of the sun.
Sunspots are particularly active areas on the sun’s surface that have “intense and complex magnetic fields,” according to NASA. “Like freckles on the face of the sun, they appear to be small features, but size is relative: The dark core of this sunspot is actually larger than Earth.” To help viewers perceive the vastness of the sunspot, NASA has added a small black circle at the bottom of the screen showing the approximate size of Earth.
The dynamic little trail of spots appears on the left of the screen as the glowing orange sphere spins around and slowly progresses across the screen in footage captured between July 5 and July 11, its shape shifting slightly as it goes—like an organism undulating under a microscope.
The sun had been devoid of spots for two days before this one turned toward the Earth. Earlier this year, starting on March 5, NASA recorded the longest stretch of spotless sun since 2010. For at least 15 days straight, the sun was a smooth, golden yellow, an appearance NASA compared to a yolk.
The sun goes through a natural 11-year cycle, from the solar maximum—with its highest level of activity identified with numerous sunspots—to the solar minimum—with the least activity and the fewest sunspots. Scientists predict the next minimum is coming up in 2019 or 2020. As the sun approaches its minimum, sunspots like the one observed this month will become more rare.