Helioviewer Watching for X-class Flares!

The U.S. government occasionally astounds us by providing front-line, real-time research tools put into the hands of the taxpayers who paid for them.

One such online tool is called Helioviewer. It allows ordinary folks to visually study our star, the sun, in extraordinary detail unimaginable by anyone only a few years ago.

Click the above image to see a bird’s eye high-def video view of what has happened on the sun in the last 24 hours. The video gives you a good sense, on a daily basis, how dynamic our star is and how much it rotates and changes in a day.

Using Helioviewer, citizens can see current events on the sun as they happen just as fast as NASA does. It provides near real-time access to 6 different spacecraft, each with a variety of instruments directed at the sun from all sides.

It’s especially interesting today because of a large threatening sunspot group that shows up as a bright area near the middle of the sun in the video. The group is called AR1890.

As you see in the video, it has swung into position and is pointed strait at earth. In a couple days it will drift away and no longer be a danger.

That is important because it already has produced a very strong X-class solar flare and if it produces another one in the next couple days it could seriously disrupt life on our tiny planet.

With Helioviewer you can watch for flares yourself and see a big one happen at the same time as NASA scientists. That is pretty danged cool!

This author plans to do just that because of the X-class flare threat over the next couple days. All I’ll do is monitor the sun every few hours and if I find anything big, then scoop the world with the first high quality video published of the event!

Helioviewer – The Scientist/Citizen Tool

Helioviewer puts these remarkable abilities at your fingertips:

  • Access 6 spacecraft (one is on the sun’s far side)
  • Access 9 instruments with 14 detectors making 33 measurements
  • View the sun within 5 minutes of real-time
  • View solar activity recorded years ago
  • View data ranging in time steps from 1 second to 1 year
  • Zoom-in or zoom-out to see more or less detail
  • Add annotations identifying everything from Active Regions to CMEs
  • Record full-HD Helioviewer videos from a start date/time at any instrument allowed time step
  • Crop videos before recording
  • Upload to YouTube
  • Download instrument data to your computer

Using those capabilities the author recorded these two remarkable solar events…

Dangerous X3 Solar Flare from AR1890 on November 6th, 2013

The Great CME of August 31st, 2012

Helioviewer’s Downside

Helpful Hints (Click for larger view)

Helioviewer does have some annoying quirks:

  • Sparse documentation
  • Recorded videos don’t start at start date/time
  • Videos limited to 20 seconds
  • Cannot specify ending video time
  • Video length controlled by time amount (1h to 28d)
  • Video length also controlled by time increment
  • Time increment video setting badly placed
  • Default is not to display image settings
  • Poor error messages
  • Slow response times
  • Learning curve

If an instrument captured it then viewing data is easy and straightforward. Making video clips is a different matter all together given the lack of control over start and stop times.

If for any reason display or video clip settings cannot not be met, Helioviewer provides unhelpful error messages like:

We are unable to create a movie for the time you requested. Please select a different time range and try again.
– Helioviewer error message

A lot of time you are left to guesswork figuring out problems when things go wrong. That wastes time. Most videos say they take 4-5 minutes but usually it takes 2 to 3 times longer than it says and some videos take hours. Lack of full control over the start and stop times for videos causes wasted time trying different settings until something works as intended.


The U.S. federal government provides amazing stuff sometimes. Helioviewer is one of them.

Helioviewer has some dumfounding issues that are frustrating and very time consuming.

But if you have any interest in tracking globe threatening X-class flares like a NASA scientist (or are just plain curious) then suffering through its learning curve, its quirks and the limitations of the various spacecraft and instruments is more than worth the inconvenient pain.


About azleader

Learning to see life more clearly... one image at a time!

Posted on Nov 9, 2013, in Climate, climate change, economics, Energy, environment, Government, nature, news, Opinion, Politics, science, space, Sun, sunspots, technology. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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