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December 7, 2010

Acoustic wave resonating in the interior of the sun

A computer-generated image showing an acoustic wave resonating in the interior of the sun. Similar to a sound wave when it moves through the air, the solar acoustic wave moves through the gaseous sun in the form of alternating zones of compression and rarefaction. At the same time they displace solar gases, regions shown in red that are momentarily receding with respect to the viewer whereas regions in blue are approaching. Although such waves resonate deep within the sun, they generate oscillations at the surface that can be detected from the Earth.

This image was generated as part of the National Science Foundation (NSF)-supported GONG (Global Oscillation Network Group) project.

GONG is an international project led by NSF that provides continuous observations of the sun, monitoring the surface and tracking its tiny oscillations 24 hours a day. These oscillations are visual evidence of the sound waves traveling through the sun's interior. The science of studying wave oscillations in the sun is called helioseismology.

Helioseismology utilizes waves that propagate throughout the sun to measure for the first time, the invisible internal structure and dynamics of a star. In order to exploit this new technique, GONG has developed a six-station network of solar velocity imagers located around the Earth to obtain continuous observations of the oscillations of the sun. The six sites comprising the GONG Network include: in the U.S., the Big Bear Solar Observatory, Big Bear City, Calif., and the High Altitude Observatory, Mauna Loa, Hawaii; in Western Australia, the Learmonth Solar Observatory; in India, the Udaipur Solar Observatory; in the Canary Islands, the Observatorio del Teide; and in Chile, the Cerro Tololo Interamerican Observatory. (Year of image: 1985)

Credit: John W. Harvey, National Solar Observatory

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