What does the Sun look like from space, and are there any pictures of the Sun from space?

by | Sep 17, 2009 04:10 PM ET

You Asked:

What does the Sun look like from space, and are there any pictures of the Sun from space? --- David, Birmingham, Ala.

Marshall Brain answered:

If you were to get far enough away - say a few light years - our sun would look like any other star in the sky. It would be a point of light on the black background of space.

We don't have any pictures like that because we don't have any cameras that far away from earth. The farthest-away photo of the sun that we have came from the Voyager 1 spacecraft in 1990. Voyager 1 had been flying away from earth for 13 years at that point. You can see the photo here:

PIA00451: Solar System Portrait - 60 Frame Mosaic

The page says:

Our sun is seen as the bright object in the center of the circle of frames. The wide-angle image of the sun was taken with the camera's darkest filter (a methane absorption band) and the shortest possible exposure (5 thousandths of a second) to avoid saturating the camera's vidicon tube with scattered sunlight. The sun is not large as seen from Voyager, only about one-fortieth of the diameter as seen from Earth, but is still almost 8 million times brighter than the brightest star in Earth's sky, Sirius. The result of this great brightness is an image with multiple reflections from the optics in the camera.

You can get individual images on photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov

At the time, Voyager 1 was outside the orbit of Pluto, and that was the last set of photos sent back by the spacecraft.

According to this page, Voyager 1 is about 10 billion miles from earth (as of July 2009) with a velocity of 10.5 miles per second (17 kps). In other words, it is traveling nearly a million miles a day away from earth.

This page has a nice image showing Voyager 1's position. It is hoped that the spacecraft breaks completely outside the solar system and enters interstellar space before it stops communicating with earth.

See also Voyager and How Voyager Works

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