SDO Returns ‘Spectacular’ Glimpses of the Sun


Stunning high-resolution images of a recent solar eruption captured by instruments aboard NASA’s newest solar observatory were released April 21.

NASA launched the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) aboard an Atlas 5 rocket on Feb. 11 to peer deep into the layers of the sun, monitor solar storms and investigate the sun’s inner workings. The $850 million satellite carries three instruments that constantly stare at the sun, generating images that have a spatial resolution 10 times better than a high-definition television.

“The spacecraft and the instruments are working very well,” said Richard Fisher, NASA’s heliophysics division director. “What we’ve seen is truly, in my view, spectacular.”

Two of instruments onboard the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center-built satellite were built by Lockheed Martin Space Systems’ Advanced Technology Center in Palo Alto, Calif. These include the Helioseismic and Magnetic Imager and a suite of four telescopes known as the Atmospheric Imaging Assembly. The third instrument, the Extreme Ultraviolet Variability Experiment, was build by the University of Colorado’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics to measure fluctuations in the sun’s ultraviolet output.

During its five-year mission, SDO is expected to capture images of the sun continuously, sending approximately 1.5 terabytes of data to Earth every day — almost 50 times more science data than any other mission NASA has launched to date.