NASA planned to launch a solar probe to help unlock more secrets about the sun, whose massive storms affect Earth’s weather and can pose danger to Earth dwellers.

The Solar Dynamic Observatory (SDO) is the “crown jewel” of a fleet of NASA satellites planned to collect more details about what’s going on underneath and above the surface of the sun, said Michael Luther, a NASA official who is overseeing the programme, in a webcast briefing.

Called the Living With a Star programme, scientists said they hope to better predict the sun’s periodic release of billions of tons of matter that can endanger human life and health, corrode oil pipelines, disrupt communications and cause power surges.

From Earth’s orbit, the SDO will collect data over five years and download 1.5 terabytes every day — the equivalent of 500,000 songs onto an iPod, said Elizabeth Citrin, project manager.

A special receiving centre on Earth will manage the data. For iPhone owners, there will be a special app to see the current—time behaviour of the sun as interpreted from the data flow.

“This is way cool,” said Madhulika Guhathakurta, lead programme scientist for Living With a Star, holding up an iPhone.

While various elements of the sun have been studied over the years, the SDO will be the first to present a “comprehensive view” of all the elements, she said.

“This is the whole picture,” she said. It will show “what happens on the sun and what happens to us here.”

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