Spacecraft Reveals Small Solar Events Have Large Scale Effects

WASHINGTON -- NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory, or SDO, has allowed scientists for the first time to comprehensively view the dynamic
nature of storms on the sun. Solar storms have been recognized as a
cause of technological problems on Earth since the invention of the
telegraph in the 19th century.

The Atmospheric Imaging Assembly (AIA), one of three instruments
aboard SDO, allowed scientists to discover that even minor solar
events are never truly small scale. Shortly after AIA opened its
doors on March 30, scientists observed a large eruptive prominence on
the sun's edge, followed by a filament eruption a third of the way
across the star's disk from the eruption.

"Even small events restructure large regions of the solar surface,"
said Alan Title, AIA principal investigator at Lockheed Martin
Advanced Technology Center in Palo Alto, Calif. "It's been possible
to recognize the size of these regions because of the combination of
spatial, temporal and area coverage provided by AIA."

The AIA instrument also has observed a number of very small flares
that have generated magnetic instabilities and waves with
clearly-observed effects over a substantial fraction of the solar
surface. The instrument is capturing full-disk images in eight
different temperature bands that span 10,000 to 36-million degrees
Fahrenheit. This allows scientists to observe entire events that are
very difficult to discern by looking in a single temperature band, at
a slower rate, or over a more limited field of view.

The data from SDO is providing a torrent of new information and
spectacular images to be studied and interpreted. Using AIA's
high-resolution and nearly continuous full-disk images of the sun,
scientists have a better understanding of how even small events on
our nearest star can significantly impact technological
infrastructure on Earth.

Solar storms produce disturbances in electromagnetic fields that can
induce large currents in wires, disrupting power lines and causing
widespread blackouts. The storms can interfere with global
positioning systems, cable television, and communications between
ground controllers and satellites and airplane pilots flying near
Earth's poles. Radio noise from solar storms also can disrupt cell
phone service.

Launched in Feb. 2010, the spacecraft's commissioning May 14 confirmed
all three of its instruments successfully passed an on-orbit
checkout, were calibrated and are collecting science data.

"We're already at five million images and counting," said Dean
Pesnell, the SDO project scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight
Center in Greenbelt, Md. "With data and images pouring in from SDO,
solar scientists are poised to make discoveries that will rewrite the
books on how changes in solar activity have a direct effect on Earth.
The observatory is working great, and it's just going to get better."

Goddard built, operates and manages the SDO spacecraft for NASA's
Science Mission Directorate in Washington. SDO is the first mission
of NASA's Living with a Star Program. The program's goal is to
develop the scientific understanding necessary to address those
aspects of the sun-Earth system that directly affect our lives and

For more information about SDO, visit:


Source: NASA

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