Probe will warn of solar storms

Posted by Emma Woollacott

NASA will next week launch a new spacecraft designed to help predict the sun's complex weather and storms.

"The sun changes every time we look at it, [it] is never the same," said Dean Pesnell, SDO project scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.
 
The new Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) probe will take the most detailed observations ever of the sun. It will study the 11-year cycle of the sun's magnetic field.

It could help predict the periodic flares of charged particles that can disrupt satellite navigation systems, radio communications, energy grids and other systems.

"Our sun affects our life more and more as we come to depend more and more on technology," Pesnell said.

The observatory contains three instruments that will take photographs of the sun in eight wavelengths of light every 10 seconds. The data will be used to study the process that generates the sun's magnetic field, called the solar dynamo.

"Understanding the dynamo, being able to predict that is the holy grail of solar physics," said Madhulika Guhathakurta, SDO program scientist at NASA.

After it reaches orbit around Earth, SDO will undergo tests, and will send back its first scientific data about 60 days after launch.

"This is my baby, and it's very hard for me to push it out on its own," said Elizabeth Citrin, SDO project manager at Goddard. "I am proud, I know it's going to perform, I know it's just going to be wonderful."