Using SunPy’s HEK module

The Heliophysics Event Knowledgebase (HEK) is a repository of feature and event information about the Sun. Entries are generated both by automated algorithms and human observers. SunPy accesses this information through the hek module, which was developed through support from the European Space Agency Summer of Code in Space (ESA-SOCIS) 2011.

1. Setting up the client

SunPy’s HEK module is in It can be imported into your session as follows:

>>> from import hek
>>> client = hek.HEKClient()  # doctest: +REMOTE_DATA

This creates a client that we will use to interact with the HEK.

2. A simple query

To search the HEK, you need a start time, an end time, and an event type. Times are specified as strings or Python datetime objects. Event types are specified as upper case, two letter strings, and are identical to the two letter abbreviations found at the HEK website,

>>> tstart = '2011/08/09 07:23:56'
>>> tend = '2011/08/09 12:40:29'
>>> event_type = 'FL'
>>> result =,tend),hek.attrs.EventType(event_type))  # doctest: +REMOTE_DATA

The first line defines the search start and end times. The second line specifies the event type, in this ‘FL’ or flare. Line 4 goes out to the web, contacts the HEK, and queries it for the information you have requested. Event data for ALL flares available in the HEK within the time range 2011/08/09 07:23: 56 UT - 2011/08/09 12:40:20 UT will be returned, regardless of which feature recognition method used to detect the flare.

Let’s break down the arguments of The first argument:


sets the start and end times for the query. The second argument:


sets the type of event to look for. Since we have defined event_type = ‘FL’, this sets the query to look for flares. We could have also set the flare event type using the syntax:


There is more on the attributes of hek.attrs in section 4 of this guide.

3. The result

So, how many flare detections did the query turn up?

>>> len(result)  # doctest: +REMOTE_DATA

The object returned by the above query is a list of Python dictionary objects. Each dictionary consists of key-value pairs that exactly correspond to the parameters listed at You can inspect all the dictionary keys very simply:

>>> result[0].keys() # doctest:+SKIP

and so on. Remember, the HEK query we made returns all the flares in the time-range stored in the HEK, regardless of the feature recognition method. The HEK parameter which stores the the feature recognition method is called “frm_name”. Using list comprehensions (which are very cool), it is easy to get a list of the feature recognition methods used to find each of the flares in the result object, for example:

>>> [elem["frm_name"] for elem in result]  # doctest:+SKIP
 u'SSW Latest Events',
 u'SEC standard',
 u'Flare Detective - Trigger Module',
 u'Flare Detective - Trigger Module',
 u'SSW Latest Events',
 u'SEC standard',
 u'Flare Detective - Trigger Module',
 u'Flare Detective - Trigger Module',
 u'Flare Detective - Trigger Module',
 u'Flare Detective - Trigger Module',
 u'Flare Detective - Trigger Module']

It is likely each flare on the Sun was actually detected multiple times by many different methods.

4. More complex queries

The HEK client allows you to make more complex queries. There are two key features you need to know in order to make use of the full power of the HEK client. Firstly, the attribute module - hek.attrs - describes ALL the parameters stored by the HEK as listed in, and the HEK client makes these parameters searchable.

To explain this, let’s have a closer look at hek.attrs. The help command is your friend here; scroll down to section DATA you will see:

>>> help(hek.attrs) # doctest:+SKIP
AR = < object>
Area = < object>
Bound = < object>
BoundBox = < object>
CC = < object>
CD = < object>
CE = < object>
CH = < object>
CJ = < object>
CR = < object>
CW = < object>
EF = < object>
ER = < object>
Event = < object>
FA = < object>
FE = < object>
FI = < object>
FL = < object>
FRM = < object>
etc etc...

The object hek.attrs knows the attributes of the HEK. You’ll see that one of the attributes is a flare object:

FL = < object>

We can replace hek.attrs.EventType(‘FL’) with hek.attrs.FL - they do the same thing, setting the query to look for flare events. Both methods of setting the event type are provided as a convenience

Let’s look further at the FRM attribute:

>>> help(hek.attrs.FRM) 
Help on FRM in module object:
class FRM(__builtin__.object)
 |  Data descriptors defined here:
 |  __dict__
 |      dictionary for instance variables (if defined)
 |  __weakref__
 |      list of weak references to the object (if defined)
 |  ----------------------------------------------------------------------
 |  Data and other attributes defined here:
 |  Contact = < object>
 |  HumanFlag = < object>
 |  Identifier = < object>
 |  Institute = < object>
 |  Name = < object>
 |  ParamSet = < object>
 |  SpecificID = < object>
 |  URL = < object>
 |  VersionNumber = < object>

Let’s say I am only interested in those flares identified by the SSW Latest Events tool. I can retrieve those entries only from the HEK with the following command:

>>> result = hek.attrs.Time(tstart,tend), hek.attrs.EventType(event_type), hek.attrs.FRM.Name == 'SSW Latest Events')  # doctest: +REMOTE_DATA
>>> len(result)  # doctest: +REMOTE_DATA

We can also retrieve all the entries in the time range which were not made by SSW Latest Events with the following command:

>>> result = hek.attrs.Time(tstart,tend), hek.attrs.EventType(event_type),hek.attrs.FRM.Name != 'SSW Latest Events')  # doctest: +REMOTE_DATA
>>> len(result)  # doctest: +REMOTE_DATA

We are using Python’s comparison operators to filter the returns from the HEK client. Other comparisons are possible. For example, let’s say I want all the flares that have a peak flux of over 4000.0:

>>> result =,tend), hek.attrs.EventType(event_type), hek.attrs.FL.PeakFlux > 4000.0)  # doctest: +REMOTE_DATA
>>> len(result)  # doctest: +REMOTE_DATA

Multiple comparisons can be included. For example, let’s say I want all the flares with a peak flux above 1000 AND west of 800 arcseconds from disk center of the Sun

>>> result =,tend), hek.attrs.EventType(event_type), hek.attrs.Event.Coord1 > 800, hek.attrs.FL.PeakFlux > 1000.0)  # doctest: +REMOTE_DATA

Multiple comparison operators can be used to filter the results back from the HEK.

The second important feature about the HEK client is that the comparisons we’ve made above can be combined using Python’s logical operators. This makes complex queries easy to create. However, some caution is advisable. Let’s say I want all the flares west of 50 arcseconds OR have a peak flux over 1000.0:

>>> result =,tend), hek.attrs.EventType(event_type), (hek.attrs.Event.Coord1 > 50) or (hek.attrs.FL.PeakFlux > 1000.0) )  # doctest: +REMOTE_DATA

and as a check

>>> [elem["fl_peakflux"] for elem in result] # doctest: +REMOTE_DATA
[None, None, None, None, None, None, None, 2326.86, 1698.83, None, None, 2360.49, 3242.64, 1375.93, 6275.98, 923.984, 1019.83]
>>> [elem["event_coord1"] for elem in result] # doctest: +REMOTE_DATA
[51.0, 51.0, 51.0, 924.0, 924.0, 924.0, 69.0, 883.2, 883.2, 69.0, 69.0, 883.2, 883.2, 883.2, 883.2, 883.2, 883.2]

Note that some of the fluxes are returned as “None”. This is because some feature recognition methods for flares do not report the peak flux. However, because the location of event_coord1 is greater than 50, the entry from the HEK for that flare detection is returned.

Let’s say we want all the flares west of 50 arcseconds AND have a peak flux over 1000.0:

>>> result =,tend), hek.attrs.EventType(event_type), (hek.attrs.Event.Coord1 > 50) and (hek.attrs.FL.PeakFlux > 1000.0) )  # doctest: +REMOTE_DATA
>>> [elem["fl_peakflux"] for elem in result] # doctest: +REMOTE_DATA
[2326.86, 1698.83, 2360.49, 3242.64, 1375.93, 6275.98, 1019.83]
>>> [elem["event_coord1"] for elem in result] # doctest: +REMOTE_DATA
[883.2, 883.2, 883.2, 883.2, 883.2, 883.2, 883.2]

In this case none of the peak fluxes are returned with the value None. Since we are using an and logical operator we need a result from the (hek.attrs.FL.PeakFlux > 1000.0) filter. Flares that have None for a peak flux cannot provide this, and so are excluded. The None type in this context effectively means “Don’t know”; in such cases the client returns only those results from the HEK that definitely satisfy the criteria passed to it.

5. Getting data for your event

The ‘hek2vso’ module allows you to take an HEK event and acquire VSO records specific to that event.

>>> from import hek2vso
>>> h2v = hek2vso.H2VClient()  # doctest: +REMOTE_DATA

There are several ways to use this capability. For example, you can pass in a list of HEK results and get out the corresponding VSO records. Here are the VSO records returned via the tenth result from the HEK query in Section 2 above:

>>> result =,tend),hek.attrs.EventType(event_type))  # doctest: +REMOTE_DATA
>>> vso_records = h2v.translate_and_query(result[10])  # doctest: +REMOTE_DATA
>>> len(vso_records[0])  # doctest: +REMOTE_DATA

Result 10 is an HEK entry generated by the “Flare Detective” automated flare detection algorithm running on the AIA 193 angstrom waveband. The VSO records are for full disk AIA 193 images between the start and end times of this event. The ‘translate_and_query’ function uses exactly that information supplied by the HEK in order to find the relevant data for that event. Note that the VSO does not generate records for all solar data, so it is possible that an HEK entry corresponds to data that is not accessible via the VSO.

You can also go one step further back, passing in a list of HEK attribute objects to define your search, the results of which are then used to generate their corresponding VSO records:

>>> from import hek
>>> q = h2v.full_query((hek.attrs.Time('2011/08/09 07:23:56', '2011/08/09 12:40:29'), hek.attrs.EventType('FL')))  # doctest: +REMOTE_DATA

The full capabilities of the HEK query module can be used in this function (see above).

Finally, for greater flexibility, it is possible to pass in a list of HEK results and create the corresponding VSO query attributes.

>>> vso_query = hek2vso.translate_results_to_query(result[10:11])  # doctest: +REMOTE_DATA
>>> vso_query[0]  # doctest: +REMOTE_DATA
[<Time(<Time object: scale='utc' format='isot' value=2011-08-09T07:22:44.000>, <Time object: scale='utc' format='isot' value=2011-08-09T07:28:56.000>, None)>, <Source('SDO')>, <Instrument('AIA')>, <Wavelength(193.0, 193.0, 'Angstrom')>]

This function allows users finer-grained control of VSO queries generated from HEK results.

The ‘hek2vso’ module was developed with support from the 2013 Google Summer of Code.