Celebrating Ten Years of NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory

Celebrating Ten Years of NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory

Icy comets that originate in the outskirts of the solar system tend to swing by the sun, making it an exciting phenomenon for scientists to observe which comets survive the close encounters and which ones evaporate and disintegrate.

FREMONT, CA: On February 11, 2010, NASA launched the Solar Dynamics Observatory mission, a sensitive spacecraft that has shown the world never-before-seen imagery of the sun. Ten years later, the space observatory has viewed planets crossing in front of the sun, studied the activity of sun's scorching outer atmosphere, and witnessed nearly an entire 11-year solar cycle. Here are a few of the top discoveries by the mission highlighted by NASA to celebrate ten years of solar science from SDO.

Solar Flares

The SDO, in the last decade, has been able to spot solar flares erupting from the surface of the sun. The spacecraft's cameras and equipment have been zeroed in on the sun to catch these scorching filaments of solar plasma when they appear. The observatory, which cost nearly USD 850 million, studies Earth's closest star through multiple wavelengths of light to produce incredible footage of the sun's activity. As per data from NASA, the spacecraft captured nearly 200 solar flares in its first 18 months, allowing scientists to spot a late phase flare pattern and help in understanding how much energy the sun releases during a flare.

Solar Tornadoes

Images captured by the SDO have helped scientists study the sun's giant tornadoes, taking astronomer's one step closer to unraveling the mystery of why the sun's outer atmosphere is much hotter than its surface. The swirls, or tornado provinces, are much larger than the Earth and are comprised of hot flows of gas and entwined magnetic-field lines that remain rooted to a fixed point on the solar surface. While tornadoes on the Earth can reach speeds up to 300 miles per hour, solar tornadoes far outrank the terrestrial storms with speeds of up to 186,000 miles per hour.

Comets

Icy comets that originate in the outskirts of the solar system tend to swing by the sun, making it an exciting phenomenon for scientists to observe which comets survive the close encounters and which ones evaporate and disintegrate. The SDO captured images of Comet C/2011 W3 Lovejoy as it skimmed over the sun's surface. According to NASA, the SDO's images of Lovejoy are the first to show a comet traveling so low in the sun's atmosphere. The SDO's instruments have also collected on how the sun interacts with comets.

Global Circulation

According to data collected by the SDO, scientists have learned that the sun's core is more complicated than they once thought it to be. The spacecraft's Helioseismic and Magnetic Imager instrument, operated by scientists at Stanford University, watches the motion of plasma waves, similar to how scientists study seismic waves that travel below the surfaces of Earth and Mars. Data from these instruments reveal new details about the conveyor-like mechanism that transports plasma throughout the sun, called meridional flow. This pattern of circulation can be linked to sunspot production, explaining why one solar hemisphere may have more sunspots than the other at certain times.

Coronal Mass Ejections

Coronal mass ejection is an outpour of materials that can be hazardous to astronauts and spacecraft if erupted towards the Earth. Data from the SDO has helped researchers at NASA to predict how these blasts could affect Earth and to model the solar wind's three-day journey to Earth.

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