Solar observatory sends back first dramatic pictures

Posted by Emma Woollacott

The new Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) could be as important to science as the Hubble Space Telescope, says NASA, as it releases its first close-up pictures of the sun.

The images show in unprecedented detail material streaming up and out  from sunspots, as well as extreme close-ups of activity on the sun’s surface.

The spacecraft has also made the first high-resolution measurements of solar flares in a broad range of extreme ultraviolet wavelengths.

"These initial images show a dynamic sun that I had never seen in more than 40 years of solar research," said Richard Fisher, director of NASA's Heliophysics Division.

"SDO will change our understanding of the sun and its processes, which affect our lives and society. This mission will have a huge impact on science, similar to the impact of the Hubble Space Telescope on modern astrophysics."

SDO, launched in February, will provide images with clarity 10 times better than high-definition television.

It will determine how the sun's magnetic field is generated, structured and converted into events such as turbulent solar wind, solar flares and coronal mass ejections - which can cause large magnetic storms in our planet’s magnetosphere and upper atmosphere.

"I’m so proud of our brilliant work force at Goddard, which is rewriting science textbooks once again," said Senator Barbara Mikulski, chairwoman of the Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations Subcommittee that funds NASA.

"This time Goddard is shedding new light on our closest star, the sun, discovering new information about powerful solar flares that affect us here on Earth by damaging communication satellites and temporarily knocking out power grids. Better data means more accurate solar storm warnings."