To start off the summer, the U.S. Postal Service issued a set of stamps highlighting views of the Sun from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory. Showcasing a range of solar activity seen by the spacecraft, the stamps celebrate a decade of Sun-watching for this workhorse mission. The Sun Science stamps were issued by the U.S. Postal Service during a ceremony at the Greenbelt Main Post Office in Maryland on June 18.
“It’s such a pleasure to see these gorgeous stamps,” said Dr. Nicky Fox, Division Director for NASA’s Heliophysics Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C. “I look at each of these pictures from the Solar Dynamics Observatory and am reminded of how they help us learn more about the Sun and the way its constantly changing atmosphere can affect Earth and the planets. I’m pleased that this imagery will be shared by the Postal Service with the whole country.”
The U.S. Postal Service issued a set of stamps highlighting views of the Sun from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory on June 18, 2021.Credits: U.S. Postal Service
The Solar Dynamics Observatory, or SDO, spacecraft was launched on Feb. 11, 2010, and began collecting science data a few months later. With two imaging instruments – the Atmospheric Imaging Assembly and the Helioseismic and Magnetic Imager, which were designed in concert to provide complementary views of the Sun – SDO sees the Sun in more than 10 distinct wavelengths of light, showing solar material at different temperatures.
SDO also measures the Sun’s magnetic field and the motion of solar material at its surface, and, using a technique called helioseismology, allows scientists to probe deep into the Sun’s interior, where the Sun’s complex magnetic fields sprout from. And with more than a decade of observation under its belt, SDO has provided scientists with hundreds of millions of images of our star.
A decade of observation👇
How SDO Sees the Sun
NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, or SDO, provides views of the Sun in detail never before possible. Launched on February 11, 2010, SDO provides ultra high-definition imagery of the Sun in 13 different wavelengths of light, utilizing two imaging instruments, the Atmospheric Imaging Assembly, or AIA, and the Helioseismic and Magnetic Imager, or HMI.
Each wavelength seen by SDO captures light emitted primarily by one or two types of ions — though slightly longer and shorter wavelengths produced by other ions are also part of the picture. Each wavelength was chosen to highlight a particular part of the Sun’s atmosphere, from the solar surface to the upper reaches of the Sun’s corona.
For more information about which ions produce which wavelengths seen by SDO, scroll down to the descriptions for each, below the graphic.
Each of the wavelengths observed by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, or SDO, was chosen to emphasize a specific aspect of the Sun’s surface or atmosphere. This image shows imagery both from the Advanced Imaging Assembly (AIA), which helps scientists observe how solar material moves around the Sun’s atmosphere, and the Helioseismic and Magnetic Imager (HMI), which focuses on the movement and magnetic properties of the Sun’s surface. More details for each wavelength and links to real-time SDO imagery follows.Credits: NASA/SDO/GSFC
“What SDO has done is given us the ecology of the Sun,” said Dr. Dean Pesnell, SDO project scientist at NASA Goddard. “We see events big, we see events small, and now we start to see how each size affects the others. It’s giving us the big picture, one detail at a time.
SDO’s long data record is particularly useful for studying the Sun’s regular activity cycles, which swing between high and low activity approximately every 11 years. During high points in the cycle, solar activity like solar flares and coronal mass ejections – which can impact technology on Earth and in space – are more common. Though scientists’ understanding of this cycle has improved in decades and centuries past, SDO’s data is helping uncover even more detail.
“If we want to understand what makes the Sun tick, we need to have this long-term record,” said Dr. Mark Cheung, principal investigator for SDO’s Atmospheric Imaging Assembly at the Lockheed Martin Solar and Astrophysics Laboratory in Palo Alto, California. “We can track all those magnetic fields and sunspots moving around, and how that feeds into the next solar cycle – which is in its nascent phase now.”
The new set of stamps features 10 images from SDO. Explore the story behind the stamps’ design from the U.S. Postal Service.
The dark area capping the northern polar region of the Sun is a coronal hole, a magnetically open area on the Sun from which high-speed solar wind escapes into space. Such high-speed solar wind streams can spark magnificent auroral displays on Earth when they collide with our planet’s magnetic field. These images were captured May 17-19, 2016, and the image on the stamp is from May 17. The images show the Sun in 211 Angstrom light, a wavelength of extreme ultraviolet light. This type of light is invisible to our eyes and is absorbed by Earth’s atmosphere, so it can only be seen by instruments in space.
Visible on the lower right of the Sun is a prominence, with its bright arcs traced out by charged particles spiraling along the Sun’s magnetic field lines. Coronal loops are often found over sunspots and active regions, which are areas of intense and complex magnetic fields on the Sun. These images were captured on June 18, 2015, in light at 304 Angstroms, an extreme ultraviolet wavelength.
The bright flash on the Sun’s upper right is a powerful X-class solar flare. X-class flares are the most powerful type of solar flare, and these bursts of light and energy can disturb the part of Earth’s atmosphere where GPS and radio signals travel. These images were captured on Aug. 9, 2011, in extreme ultraviolet wavelength 335 Angstroms.
This view highlights the many active regions dotting the Sun’s surface. Active regions are areas of intense and complex magnetic fields on the Sun – linked to sunspots – that are prone to erupting with solar flares or explosions of material called coronal mass ejections. This image was captured on Oct. 8, 2014, in extreme ultraviolet wavelength 171 Angstroms.
These images show a burst of material from the Sun, called a coronal mass ejection. These eruptions of magnetized solar material can create space weather effects on Earth when they collide with our planet’s magnetosphere, or magnetic environment – including aurora, satellite disruptions, and, when extreme, even power outages. These images are a blend of extreme ultraviolet wavelengths 171 and 304 Angstroms, captured on Aug. 31, 2012.
These images show evolving coronal loops across the limb and disk of the Sun. Just days after these images were taken, the Sun unleashed a powerful X-class solar flare. These images were captured in extreme ultraviolet wavelength 171 Angstroms from July 8-10, 2012, and the image on the stamp is from July 9.
This view in visible light – the type of light we can see – shows a cluster of sunspots near the center of the Sun. Sunspots appear dark because they are relatively cool compared to surrounding material, a consequence of the way their extremely dense magnetic field prevents heated material from rising to the solar surface. These images were captured Oct. 20-26, 2014, and the frame on the stamp is from Oct. 23.
These images show a burst of plasma from the lower right of the Sun, which happened in conjunction with a mid-level solar flare. These images are a blend of extreme ultraviolet wavelengths 171 and 304 Angstroms from Oct. 2, 2014.
These images show another view of the Aug. 9, 2011, X-class solar flare featured in the blue-toned 335 Angstrom images. These images were captured in light at 131 Angstroms, an extreme ultraviolet wavelength.
These images show a pair of coronal holes, one near the Sun’s equator and one at the Sun’s South Pole. These images were captured in extreme ultraviolet wavelength 193 Angstroms from Jan. 9-12, 2011, and the frame on the stamp is from Jan. 10.
SDO’s Atmospheric Imaging Assembly, which provides extreme ultraviolet views of the Sun, was designed and built by the Lockheed Martin Solar and Astrophysics Laboratory. The Helioseismic and Magnetic Imager was designed by Stanford University and built by the Lockheed Martin Solar and Astrophysics Laboratory. SDO was built and is operated and managed by Goddard for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington, D.C.
Postal Service Makes the Sun Shine Bright With Forever Stamps
GREENBELT, MD — The U.S. Postal Service issued the Sun Science stamps today. The Forever stamps were dedicated during a ceremony at the Greenbelt Main Post Office and are now for sale at Post Offices nationwide. News of the stamps is being shared with the hashtags #NASASunScience and #SunSciencestamps.
“We hope these amazing stamps will help generate the same sense of wonder and curiosity about our star that inspired our ancestors and the scientists at NASA to want to better understand the sun, space, and the myriad of possibilities that exist in our solar system, in our universe and beyond,” said Thomas J. Marshall, the Postal Service’s general counsel and executive vice president, and the stamp ceremony’s dedicating official.
The Postal Service highlights stunning images of the sun that celebrate the science behind the ongoing exploration of our nearest star.
Printed with a foil treatment that adds a glimmer to the stamps, the images on these stamps come from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, a spacecraft launched in February 2010 to keep a constant watch on the sun from geosynchronous orbit above Earth. The striking colors in these images do not represent the actual colors of the sun as perceived by human eyesight. Instead, each image is colorized by NASA according to different wavelengths that reveal or highlight specific features of the sun’s activity.
One of the stamps highlights sunspots, two feature images of coronal holes, two show coronal loops, two depict plasma blasts, one is a view of an active sun that emphasizes its magnetic fields, and two show different views of a solar flare.
Heliophysics, the study of the sun and its influence on the planets and space surrounding them, has important implications for our day-to-day lives. Although the space between the sun and Earth appears empty to human eyes, it is actually full of particles and energy from the constant flow of solar wind emitted by the sun. That space is affected by a complex, ever-changing magnetic field that influences our entire solar system.
Increased understanding of the sun helps us better explain and predict its impact not only on Earth’s climate but also on the near-Earth space environment and how it affects sensitive human technology, such as communications systems and satellite electronics. As humanity continues to explore space, a deeper knowledge of solar activity will also make it possible to identify and solve problems involved in communications, data collection, spacecraft and satellite design, and the effects of space radiation on the human body.
Art director Antonio Alcalá designed the stamps from photos that have been colorized by NASA to correspond with the wavelengths that reveal specific features of the sun’s activity.
The Sun Science stamps are being issued as a Forever stamp in panes of 20. These Forever stamps will always be equal in value to the current First-Class Mail 1‑ounce price.
Customers may purchase stamps and other philatelic products through the Postal Store at usps.com/shopstamps, by calling 844-737-7826, by mail through USA Philatelic, or at Post Office locations nationwide.
The Postal Service generally receives no tax dollars for operating expenses and relies on the sale of postage, products and services to fund its operations.