Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Sun as you've never seen it: Nasa reveals stunning footage from new satellite
By Daily Mail Reporter

Solar spectacular: Nasa's new Solar Dynamics Observatory has provided a series of stunning new images of the Sun

Soaring tens of thousands of miles away from the Sun's surface, a solar flare explodes with the energy of 100 megaton hydrogen bombs. The fiery plasma, heated to tens of millions of degrees celsius, throws out particles into space at near the speed of light.

It is just one of the spectacular images from a new satellite which it says could give fresh insight into how the Sun works.

The pictures were taken by the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), which is the most advanced spacecraft ever designed to study the Sun.

The clarity of the SDO images means that it will feed back to Nasa on Earth more comprehensive science data than any other solar observing spacecraft. Every day it sends out 1.5 terabytes of data, equal to 500,000 songs on an MP3 player.

'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 the Heliophysics Division at Nasa.

'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.'

Some of the images show never-before-seen detail of material streaming outward and away from sunspots. Others show extreme close-ups of activity on the Sun’s surface.

The satellite was launched in February and chief scientist Dean Pesnell said it has already disproved at least one theory - but refused to give details.

Full power: An extreme ultraviolet image of the Sun shows different gas temperatures - reds are about 59727 celcius, blues and greens are about 999727c

Close-up: These images show blasts erupting from the Sun. The one on the right (top) appears to stretch almost halfway across the star, about 500,000 miles

These swirling colours are further images taken by the satellite. It has been designed to predict disruptive solar storms which have repercussions on the Earth's climate

'These amazing images, which show our dynamic sun in a new level of detail, are only the beginning of SDO's contribution to our understanding of the Sun,' he said.

During its five-year mission, it will examine the Sun's magnetic field and provide a better understanding of the role the Sun plays in Earth's atmospheric chemistry and climate. It will determine how the Sun's magnetic field is generated and converted into such violent solar events such as turbulent solar winds.

Scientists know that such solar activity plays a significant role on the weather we experience on Earth by interacting with our planet's magnetic fields and upper atmosphere.

Recently UK researchers linked low solar activity and freezing cold winters in Europe. However, the mechanism behind this is not fully understood.

It is hoped the SDO will help scientists learn the damage solar flares can do to communication satellites and power supplies.

Before it was launched Professor Richard Harrison from the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in Oxfordshire said these type of missions couldn't prevent solar activity, but could help us to prepare for them.

Companies could be warned in advance to switch off vital satellite circuits and technology systems could be improved on Earth.

'It's like predicting the rain,' he told Mail Online.

'You can't stop it but if you know it's coming you can put an umbrella up.'

Nasa's Mr Fisher said the satellite was operating flawlessly.

Since the launch, engineers have been continually been conducting testing and verification of the spacecraft's components.

It carries three instrument packages, one built by the University of Colorado's Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics and two built by Lockheed Martin in Palo Alto, California.

The information is hoped to learn about the damage solar flares can do to communication satellites and power supplies.

The SDO spacecraft is prepared by Nasa specialists prior to its launch in February

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