NASA's New Eye on the Sun Delivers Stunning First Images

WASHINGTON -- NASA's recently launched Solar Dynamics Observatory, or SDO, is returning early images that confirm an unprecedented new
capability for scientists to better understand our sun's dynamic
processes. These solar activities affect everything on Earth.

Some of the images from the spacecraft 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 spacecraft
also has made the first high-resolution measurements of solar flares
in a broad range of extreme ultraviolet wavelengths.

"These initial images show a dynamic sun that I had never seen in more
than 40 years of solar research," said Richard Fisher, director of
the Heliophysics Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "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 determine 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 provide critical data that will improve the ability to
predict these space weather events. NASA's Goddard Space Flight
Center in Greenbelt, Md., built, operates and manages the SDO
spacecraft for the agency's Science Mission Directorate in

"I'm so proud of our brilliant work force at Goddard, which is
rewriting science textbooks once again." said Sen. Barbara Mikulski,
D-Md., chairwoman of the Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations
Subcommittee that funds NASA. "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."

Space weather has been recognized as a cause of technological problems
since the invention of the telegraph in the 19th century. These
events produce disturbances in electromagnetic fields on Earth that
can induce extreme currents in wires, disrupting power lines and
causing widespread blackouts. These solar storms can interfere with
communications between ground controllers, satellites and airplane
pilots flying near Earth's poles. Radio noise from the storm also can
disrupt cell phone service.

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. The observatory carries three state-of the-art instruments
for conducting solar research.

The Helioseismic and Magnetic Imager maps solar magnetic fields and
looks beneath the sun's opaque surface. The experiment will decipher
the physics of the sun's activity, taking pictures in several very
narrow bands of visible light. Scientists will be able to make
ultrasound images of the sun and study active regions in a way
similar to watching sand shift in a desert dune. The instrument's
principal investigator is Phil Scherrer of Stanford University. HMI
was built by a collaboration of Stanford University and the Lockheed
Martin Solar and Astrophysics Laboratory in Palo Alto, Calif.

The Atmospheric Imaging Assembly is a group of four telescopes
designed to photograph the sun's surface and atmosphere. The
instrument covers 10 different wavelength bands, or colors, selected
to reveal key aspects of solar activity. These types of images will
show details never seen before by scientists. The principal
investigator is Alan Title of the Lockheed Martin Solar and
Astrophysics Laboratory, which built the instrument.

The Extreme Ultraviolet Variability Experiment measures fluctuations
in the sun's radiant emissions. These emissions have a direct and
powerful effect on Earth's upper atmosphere -- heating it, puffing it
up, and breaking apart atoms and molecules. Researchers don't know
how fast the sun can vary at many of these wavelengths, so they
expect to make discoveries about flare events. The principal
investigator is Tom Woods of the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space
Physics at the University of Colorado, Boulder. LASP built the

"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," said SDO Project Scientist Dean Pesnell of

SDO is the first mission of NASA's Living with a Star Program, or LWS,
and the crown jewel in a fleet of NASA missions that study our sun
and space environment. The goal of LWS is to develop the scientific
understanding necessary to address those aspects of the connected
sun-Earth system that directly affect our lives and society.

To view the images and learn more about the SDO mission, visit:


Source: NASA

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