Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Year three: NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory mission highlights

Date:
February 12, 2013
Source:
NASA
Summary:
On Feb. 11, 2010, NASA launched an unprecedented solar observatory into space. NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) flew up on an Atlas V rocket, carrying instruments that scientists hoped would revolutionize observations of the sun. If all went according to plan, SDO would provide incredibly high-resolution data of the entire solar disk almost as quickly as once a second.

White lines represent magnetic field lines looping up out of the sun's surface in this image from SDO's Helioseismological and Magnetic Imager (HMI).
Credit: NASA/SDO/HMI

On Feb. 11, 2010, NASA launched an unprecedented solar observatory into space. NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) flew up on an Atlas V rocket, carrying instruments that scientists hoped would revolutionize observations of the sun. If all went according to plan, SDO would provide incredibly high-resolution data of the entire solar disk almost as quickly as once a second.

Related Articles


When the science team released its first images in April of 2010, SDO's data exceeded everyone's hopes and expectations, providing stunningly detailed views of the sun. In the three years since then, SDO's images have continued to show breathtaking pictures and movies of eruptive events on the sun. Such imagery is more than just pretty, they are the very data that scientists study. By highlighting different wavelengths of light, scientists can track how material on the sun moves. Such movement, in turn, holds clues as to what causes these giant explosions, which, when Earth-directed, can disrupt technology in space.

In its third year of observations, however, SDO has also opened up several new, unexpected doors to scientific inquiry. Over the last year scientists spent much time poring over data from comet observations. Comets that travel close to the sun -- known as sun-grazers -- have long been observed as they move toward the sun, but the view was always obscured by the sun's bright light when the comets got too close. But SDO has now captured images of two comets as they passed close to the sun.

In December 2011, Comet Lovejoy swept right through the sun's corona, with its long tail streaming behind it. SDO sent back pictures of the comet's long tail being buffeted by systems around the sun. Such comet tails move in response to the sun's otherwise invisible magnetic field, so they can also act as tracers of the complex magnetic field higher up in the corona, offering scientists a unique way of observing movement there. Observations of the comet's long trail of water vapor and the material its lost, as well as how it vaporizes in the intense radiation of the sun could also be used to study atomic material and their ratios in the corona. SDO's third year, therefore, brought two research communities together: comet researchers who can use solar observations for their studies and solar scientists who can use comet observations to study the sun.

The second novel highlight of SDO's third year occurred on June 5, 2012, when Venus crossed in front of the sun, as viewed from Earth -- an occurrence that will not happen again for more than 100 years. SDO cameras trained on the transit to help calibrate its instruments and to learn more about Venus's atmosphere. Since the points at which Venus first touched and later left the sun are known down to minute detail, SDO could use this information to make sure its images are oriented to true solar north -- calibrating its orientation to within a tenth of a pixel. Scientists also recorded how the sun's extreme ultraviolet light traveled through Venus's atmosphere in order to learn more about what elements exist around the planet.

The third new area of SDO data came from an always-planned source, the helioseismic and magnetic imager (HMI). The instrument provides real time maps of magnetic fields of the entire surface of the sun, showing how strong they are and -- for the first time ever -- in which direction they are pointing. Since HMI is providing a type of data never before collected, and so it has opened up a whole new area of inquiry. Changing and realigning magnetic fields are at the heart of the sun's eruptions, so this too is a crucial set of data. Scientists have spent time over the last year to figure out how to best create visual maps from the data -- as well as how to interpret them. The HMI images have been affectionately referred to as "hedgehog pictures" since they show spiky quill like lines pointing out of -- or in toward -- the sun.

Studying such complex magnetic motions inside the sun can help scientists understand the complex magnetic fields around the sun, which lead to the eruptions that can cause space weather effects near Earth and other objects in the solar system. Ultimately research into these constantly changing magnetic fields may lead to advance warning of such activity, which can send radiation, particles, and magnetic fields toward Earth and sometimes disrupt technology at Earth and other planets.

SDO is the first mission in a NASA's Living With a Star program, the goal of which is to develop the scientific understanding necessary to address those aspects of the sun-Earth system that directly affect our lives and society. NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. built, operates, and manages the SDO spacecraft for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington, D.C.

For high resolution media, visit: http://svs.gsfc.nasa.gov/vis/a010000/a011200/a011203/

For more information about NASA's SDO spacecraft, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/sdo


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by NASA. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

NASA. "Year three: NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory mission highlights." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 12 February 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/02/130212140435.htm>.
NASA. (2013, February 12). Year three: NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory mission highlights. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 19, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/02/130212140435.htm
NASA. "Year three: NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory mission highlights." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/02/130212140435.htm (accessed December 19, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Space & Time News

Friday, December 19, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

NASA's Planet-Finding Kepler Mission Isn't Over After All

NASA's Planet-Finding Kepler Mission Isn't Over After All

Newsy (Dec. 18, 2014) More than a year after NASA declared the Kepler spacecraft broken beyond repair, scientists have figured out how to continue getting useful data. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Rover Finds More Clues About Possible Life On Mars

Rover Finds More Clues About Possible Life On Mars

Newsy (Dec. 17, 2014) NASA's Curiosity rover detected methane on Mars and organic compounds on the surface, but it doesn't quite prove there was life ... yet. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Evidence of Life on Mars? NASA Rover Finds Methane, Organic Chemicals

Evidence of Life on Mars? NASA Rover Finds Methane, Organic Chemicals

Reuters - US Online Video (Dec. 16, 2014) NASA's Mars Curiosity rover finds methane in the Martian atmosphere and organic chemicals in the planet's soil, the latest hint that Mars was once suitable for microbial life. Linda So reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Geminids Meteor Shower Lights Up Skies in China

Geminids Meteor Shower Lights Up Skies in China

AFP (Dec. 16, 2014) The Geminids meteor shower lights up the skies over the Changbai Mountains in northeast China. Duration: 01:03 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Space & Time

Matter & Energy

Computers & Math

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins