Watching The Sun: SDO Launches For Solar Science

Geek Culture

Artist Concept of SDO (Image: NASA)Artist Concept of SDO (Image: NASA)

Artist Concept of SDO (Image: NASA)

Today marks the start of a new era in solar observations with the launch of the Solar Dynamics Observatory, or SDO for short. As mentioned in this week’s GeekDad Space Report, SDO launched today aboard an Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral. SDO is the first observatory in NASA’s Living With a Star program. The goal of the Living With a Star program is to better understand how the Sun affects the Earth and near-Earth space. From the mission website:

SDO’s goal is to understand, driving towards a predictive capability, the solar variations that influence life on Earth and humanity’s technological systems by determining

  • how the Sun’s magnetic field is generated and structured
  • how this stored magnetic energy is converted and released into the heliosphere and geospace in the form of solar wind, energetic particles, and variations in the solar irradiance.

SDO will achieve these goals with three instruments. The Atmospheric Imaging Assembly (AIA), the Extreme Ultra Violet (EUV) Variability Experiment (EVE) and Helioseismic and Magnetic Imager (HMI). The AIA is an array of four telescopes that will observe the surface and atmosphere of the sun. The AIA filters cover 10 different wavelength bands that are selected to reveal key aspects of solar activity. EVE will measure fluctuations in the sun’s ultraviolet output. Extreme ultraviolet radiation from the sun has a direct and powerful effect on Earth’s upper atmosphere; it heats it, inflates it, and inserts enough energy to break apart atoms and molecules. Researchers don’t know how fast the sun can vary at many of these wavelengths, so they expect to make many new discoveries about flare events. Finally, HMI will map solar magnetic fields and peer beneath the sun’s opaque surface using a technique called helioseismology. A key goal of this experiment is to decipher the physics of the sun’s magnetic dynamo.

SDO Atop The Atlas V (Image: NASA)SDO Atop The Atlas V (Image: NASA)

SDO Atop The Atlas V (Image: NASA)

The observatory is going to sit in an inclined geosynchronous orbit which will allow continuous data coverage. The continuous coverage is very important as the observatory is going to capture more data than can be captured and stored for long periods. The SDO continuous data stream has a bandwidth of 130 Megabits per second. All of this data will generate amazing images of the sun at a resolution that is ten times greater than high definition television. The SDO command center is located at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, MD which is also where the observatory integration and testing occurred.

Be sure to check out the mission homepage for a great deal more information and some education outreach information. Also, be sure to check out this great video about the mission over at the NASA Living With a Star page. If you are a twitter user you can follow @nasa_sdo and @nasa_sdo_edu. Congratulations to the entire SDO team!

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