The Secret Life of the Sun

Genre: Documentary
Director(s): Matthew Barrett

90 million miles from us

is the power that shapes our world.

Our very own star.

The sun.

We see it shine in the sky above us.

But beyond our sight,

something dramatic is happening.

The sun is going into overdrive.

Our star is more active now

than it's been for a decade.

It's sending

eruptions of superheated plasma

and vast waves of radiation

towards our planet,

with the potential

to disrupt our lives

in completely unexpected ways.

At the same time,

a new generation of satellites

is showing us the sun

in more detail than ever before.

It's almost pulsating.

I'm Kate Humble.

And I'm Helen Czerski.

Together, we're going to unravel

what's happening to our sun.

From Britain's leading centre

for solar research,

we'll use the latest satellite images

and a team of world-class experts

to decode the sun's inner workings.

Something in the sun's atmosphere


We'll explore the sun's

most spectacular displays.

I love your laboratory,

it's brilliant!

Investigate its mysterious

cycles of activity.

So it took seconds to get from the

sun to the satellite. That's right.

And discover how our sun

is behaving right now.

70 miles west of London

lies Britain's answer to NASA.

This is the Rutherford Appleton

Laboratory in Oxfordshire.

At RAL, satellite instruments

are designed and tested

before they're launched into space.

And scientists are analysing

the latest information

these satellites beam down

around the clock.

It's one of the most important

centres of solar research

in the world.

We've set up inside one

of RAL's giant research facilities

so that we can talk to some

of Britain's leading solar scientists

and see for ourselves

the extraordinary images

they're using to study our star.

We can't look directly at the sun

without damaging our eyesight,

but a new fleet of satellites

are allowing scientists here at RAL

for the first time

to get a unique picture of the sun.

In 2006, NASA launched

the twin STEREO spacecraft

to observe the sun

from two sides simultaneously.

The Solar Dynamics Observatory

followed four years later.

It's able to visualise the sun in

high resolution for the first time.

These satellites show the sun

as far more than simply the burning

disc in the sky that we see.

Here at RAL, head of space science

Richard Harrison

is responsible

for analysing those images.

So, Richard,

how are these new satellites

advancing our knowledge of the sun?

Well, the whole point

is that we have now built up

a fleet of spacecraft, an

international fleet of spacecraft,

that are really studying the sun

in phenomenal detail.

We can see the sun from both sides.

We can see a complete star,

and we'd never done that before.

And these satellites can detect

types of light from the sun

that are invisible to the naked eye.

The brighter regions here

are what we call active regions,

and they're regions

a bit like volcanoes and earthquakes

on the Earth, if you like,

regions where the sun is active,

and there's a lot of interesting

stuff happening in here.

You can see it with your own eyes,

it's so complex,

it's moving all the time,

like a plate of writhing spaghetti.

And I mean,

this is an extraordinary image.

We can see several colours

put together,

showing you the full complexity

in all of its glory, if you like,

the truly complex atmosphere

writhing in front of your eyes.

And this sort of illustrates it,

puts it in a nutshell,

how fantastic it is

to be studying the sun

as it approaches a peak in activity

with this wonderful fleet

of spacecraft.

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Submitted on August 05, 2018

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