Wednesday, April 21, 2010

NASA releases first images from new solar observatory

NASA today released the first images from an $850 million mission launched from Cape Canaveral in February to study the sun and space weather.

Here's a link to a NASA press release and the images and movies shown today.

The Solar Dynamics Observatory spacecraft launched Feb. 11 atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket, and took more than a month to reach its geostationary orbit and test its systems and three primary science instruments.

The goal of the five- to 10-year mission is to understand the physics behind the formation of the sun's magnetic field and explosions of energy and matter that can influence Earth's atmosphere and electronic systems.

Solar flares and other space weather can disrupt communications systems, cause power outages and damage satellites.

This afternoon at the Newseum in Washington, D.C., a team of scientists held a "first-light briefing" to display and discuss some early images.

"These are truly spectacular, and they show details of our sun that have not been available before, in a comprehensive and multi-dimensional manner," said Richard Fisher, director of the Heliophysics Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

Fisher said the observatory's impact on the study of stars including our sun would be "truly revolutionary," similar to the way the Hubble Space Telescope revolutionized astrophysics.

IMAGE: A full-disk multi-wavelength extreme ultraviolet image of the sun taken by the Solar Dynamics Observatory on March 30, 2010. False colors trace different gas temperatures. Reds are relatively cool (about 60,000 Kelvin, or 107,540 F); blues and greens are hotter (greater than 1 million Kelvin, or 1,799,540 F). Credit: NASA.

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