Solar observatory set for launch
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Posted 10 February 2010 - 03:52 PM
The US space agency (Nasa) will attempt to launch its latest Sun probe on Wednesday from Cape Canaveral, Florida. The Solar Dynamics Observatory will acquire detailed images of our star to try to get a keener understanding of why it behaves the way it does. An active Sun can disrupt satellite, communication, and power systems at Earth - especially when it billows charged particles in our direction.
Scientists want to see if they can forecast this "space weather" better. The Solar Dynamics Observatory will assist this drive by investigating the physics at work inside, on the surface and in the atmosphere of the Sun. The SDO is being launched on an Atlas rocket from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The launch is timed to take place during a one-hour window starting at 1026 local time (1526 GMT).
"SDO is the solar variability mission," said Lika Guhathakurta, the SDO programme scientist at Nasa Headquarters.
"It is going to revolutionise our view of the Sun and it will reveal how solar activity affects our planet, and help us anticipate what lies ahead. "It will observe the Sun faster, deeper and in greater detail than any previous observations, breaking barriers of time, scale and clarity that have long blocked progress in solar physics."
SDO's instruments will return images with a resolution 10 times better than the average high-definition television camera, and those pictures will come back at a rapid rate, every few seconds. The mission will try to unravel the factors that drive the Sun's cycles of activity.
A key goal will be to probe the inner workings of the solar dynamo, the deep network of plasma currents that generates the Sun's tangled and sometimes explosive magnetic field.
It is the dynamo that ultimately lies behind all forms of solar activity, from the solar flares that explode in the Sun's atmosphere to the relatively cool patches, or sunspots, that pock the solar disc and wander across its surface for days or even weeks.
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