NASA Turns Eyes Toward the Sun

The Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) is the most advanced spacecraft ever designed to study the sun and its dynamic behavior.
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On Feb 9, NASA is set to launch The Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), the most advanced spacecraft ever designed to study the sun and its dynamic behavior.

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The four-telescope Atmospheric Imaging Assembly, set for launch inside NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (NASA photo).

According to NASA, SDO will provide better quality, more comprehensive science data faster than any NASA spacecraft currently studying the sun and its processes. It will “unlock the processes” inside the sun, on the sun's surface, and in its corona that result in solar variability—observed from Earth as “space weather.”

Space weather can change disable satellites, cause power grid failures, and disrupt global positioning system, television, and telecommunications signals, among other effects. Understanding the science of space weather could lead to a capability to predict space weather.

SDO is the first mission and cornerstone of a NASA science program called Living With a Star (LWS).

To gather data from all three of SDO's instruments, NASA has set up a new Ka-band antenna facility that includes a pair of dedicated radio antennas near Las Cruces, New Mexico. SDO's geosynchronous orbit will keep the observatory in constant view of the two 18-meter dishes around the clock for the duration of the observatory's five-year mission.

SDO will send back 150 million bits of data per second, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week—almost 50 times more science data than any other mission in NASA history. Every 0.75 seconds, SDO will record images with 10 times greater resolution than high-definition television.

A bank of multi-wavelength telescopes and cameras called the Atmospheric Imaging Assembly (AIA) will produce a high-definition image of the sun in 8 selected wavelengths out of the 10 available every 10 seconds. The 10 wavelength bands include nine ultraviolet and extreme ultraviolet bands and one visible-light band to reveal key aspects of solar activity.

The SDO will be places in geosynchronous orbit to provide nearly continuous data transfer back to Earth. Otherwise, it would have to store data until it had a ground link. But no space-qualified data recorder with the capability to handle this large data volume exists, NASA said.

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