NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) has delivered stunning first images of our sun. Some of the images show never-before-seen detail of material streaming outward and away from sunspots. Others show extreme close-ups of activity on the sun’s surface. The SDO has also made the first high—resolution measurements of solar flares in a broad range of extreme ultraviolet wavelengths. Richard Fisher, director of the Heliophysics Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington, said: “These initial images show a dynamic sun that I had never seen in more than 40 years of solar research.
“SDO will change our understanding of the sun and its processes, which affect our lives and society. This mission will have a huge impact on science, similar to the impact of the Hubble Space Telescope on modern astrophysics.” Launched on Feb. 11, 2010, SDO is the most advanced spacecraft ever designed to study the sun.
During its five—year mission, it will examine the sun’s magnetic field and also provide a better understanding of the role the sun plays in Earth’s atmospheric chemistry and climate.
Since launch, engineers have been conducting testing and verification of the spacecraft’s components. Now fully operational, SDO will provide images with clarity 10 times better than high—definition television and will return more comprehensive science data faster than any other solar observing spacecraft. SDO will find how the sun’s magnetic field is generated, structured and converted into violent solar events such as turbulent solar wind, solar flares and coronal mass ejections. These immense clouds of material, when directed toward Earth, can cause large magnetic storms in our planet’s magnetosphere and upper atmosphere.
SDO will also provide critical data that will improve the ability to predict these space weather events. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Centre in Greenbelt, Md., built, operates and manages the SDO spacecraft for the agency’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D—Md., chairwoman of the Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations Subcommittee that funds NASA, said: “I’m so proud of our brilliant work force at Goddard, which is rewriting science textbooks once again.
“This time Goddard is shedding new light on our closest star, the sun, discovering new information about powerful solar flares that affect us here on Earth by damaging communication satellites and temporarily knocking out power grids. Better data means more accurate solar storm warnings.” SDO will send 1.5 terabytes of data back to Earth each day, which is equivalent to a daily download of half a million songs onto an MP3 player. SDO Project Scientist Dean Pesnell of Goddard said: “These amazing images, which show our dynamic sun in a new level of detail, are only the beginning of SDO’s contribution to our understanding of the sun,” SDO is the first mission of NASA’s Living with a Star Program (LWS), and the crown jewel in a fleet of NASA missions that study our sun and space environment.