May 21 2010
Move over Hubble Space Telescope, the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) is on orbit and providing humanity views of our Sun that have never been seen before.
SDO is one of the Goddard Space Flight Center’s (GSFC’s) premiere missions, following in the foot step’s of GSFC’s famous Hubble Space Telescope. SDO cost nearly a billion dollars, Â but it was well worth the investment. SDO is meant to take over the monitoring and exploration of the Sun that has been performed by the joint NASA-ESA (European Space Agency) SOHO mission, which has been operating since it was launched in 1995. 15 years brings a lot of amazing new technological breakthroughs.
SOHO is in geosynchronous orbit around the Earth where it floats relatively stationary over the central US. It is one of many satellites monitoring for solar flares and storms that can impact us here on Earth, as it also attempts to unravel the mysteries of the cosmos.
SDO constantly pumps down science data at a rate of 150 Mbps, 24×7, for weeks at a timeÂ when it is in science mode. That means humanity will be swimming in data and amazing discoveries over the mission’s expected 10 year life time (currently it is only Â budgeted for 5 years). SDO has 3 world class instruments on board:
- Atmospheric Imaging Assembly (AIA)
- EUV Variability Experiment (EVE)
- Helioseismic and Magnetic Imager (HMI)
It was launched February 11th, 2010 and has already produced some amazing videos, as seen in these examples from the SDO YouTube page. In this first loop we see a solar ejection event. I would speculate this one is large enough that our entire planet would fit inside the loop of solar material with room to spare.
This second movie focuses in on a plume of some form, bubbling up from the solar surface.
And this one shows the entire sun (with a solar flare in upper right-hand quadrant) in various temperature bans.
This last one zooms in on the solar flare, where you can barely see wisps of matter jettisoned up right at us (from our point of view).
Folks, keep an eye on SDO. This mission will be one of those missions that just explodes our understanding of the universe, and our place in it.