This new shot of the sun shining through in high-energy x-rays is so ridiculously gorgeous it's actually making us angry.

This is officially the first picture of the sun taken by NASA's NuStar, the Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array. The image, which covers the west limb of the sun, was overlaid on a picture taken by NASA's SDO, or Solar Dynamics Observatory. The NuSTAR mission was designed to scan black holes and other distant objects outside our solar system, so this is a total bonus.


"At first I thought the whole idea was crazy," noted NuSTAR team member Fiona Harrison. "Why would we have the most sensitive high energy X-ray telescope ever built, designed to peer deep into the universe, look at something in our own back yard?" But she was persuaded after realizing that faint X-ray flashes predicted by theorists could actually be picked up by NuSTAR.

What's more, NuSTAR, unlike NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory, can look directly into the sun without experiencing damage to its sensors.

The result is a stunning and scientifically important solar image, one that's considered "the most sensitive solar portrait ever taken in high-energy X-rays." Among other things, the new data is providing important details about the insanely high temperatures experienced just above sunspots.

NASA explains what you're seeing the image:

The NuSTAR data, seen in green and blue, reveal solar high-energy emission (green shows energies between 2 and 3 kiloelectron volts, and blue shows energies between 3 and 5 kiloelectron volts). The high-energy X-rays come from gas heated to above 3 million degrees.

The red channel represents ultraviolet light captured by SDO at wavelengths of 171 angstroms, and shows the presence of lower-temperature material in the solar atmosphere at 1 million degrees.

This image shows that some of the hotter emission tracked by NuSTAR is coming from different locations in the active regions and the coronal loops than the cooler emission shown in the SDO image.

Okay, time to get your wallpaper on:

For the west limb image (as shown in the banner), a 15.13 MB full-res TIFF (3,150 x 1,600) can be found here, and for a 282 kB full-res JPEG click here. For the entire image (as shown below), a 3.77 MB full-rex TIFF (1,092 x 1,200) can be found here, and for a 153 kB full-res JPG click here.


Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/GSFC