Use Python to retrieve and display images from space

Lead Image © dzm1try,

From the Sun

With CherryPy and Python Remote Objects, you can run displays showing data from NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory spacecraft.

At the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History [1], Raspberry Pis are used to help provide a near-real-time look at the Sun. NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) [2] transmits images to Earth continuously 24 hours a day. Once these images arrive on Earth, NASA makes them available on web servers accessible to anyone [3]. In this article, I'll show how a combination of Python programs makes these images available daily.

The Solar Dynamics Observatory

SDO's mission is to study radiation emitted from the sun and how it affects life on Earth. It does this by collecting images in 13 different wavelengths with two different instruments (Figure 1).

Figure 1: The instrument layout of the Solar Dynamics Observatory. The AIA and HMI instruments create the images used in this article; the EVE instrument measures the entire spectrum but returns its data numerically. Image courtesy of NASA.

The Atmospheric Imaging Assembly (AIA) comprises four telescopes with two passbands each, generating eight images every 10 seconds. The Helioseismic and Magnetic Imager (HMI) watches waves on the surface of the sun; its magnetic imaging looks inside the sun and returns images that look almost like weather radar. These images, combined with their download frequency, generate 1.5TB of data each day.

Solar Monitors

The exhibit gallery in the museum includes four large LCD displays that show the sun feeds. Each monitor displays a different data channel from the SDO (Figure 2). Gallery attendants can control an interactive version of the script via tablet and select any data feeds available from the SDO.

Figure 2: One of the solar display monitors. The red dot below the screen is the Raspberry Pi's power light. The blue dot is the WiFi dongle.

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