Friday, February 12, 2010

NASA launched sun watching satellite

NASA has effectively launched the Solar Dynamics Observatory, a satellite that will take ultra-high-resolution pictures of the sun and help forecast solar storms.

The investigate was launched aboard an Altas V rocket from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida Thursday at 10:23 a.m. An effort to launch the satellite Wednesday had to be scrubbed because of high winds.

Once in synchronous orbit over its ground station in New Mexico, the SDO will beam back pictures of the sun at an exceptional resolution of 4,096 by 4,096 pixels, 10 times better resolution than HDTV. The SDO will take one picture at eight different wavelengths each 10 seconds.

Other instruments on the satellite will measure the sun's brightness in the tremendous ultraviolet light spectrum, map the sun's magnetic fields and watch sound waves passing over its surface to probe its inner workings. The 290-kilogram satellite has no on-board storage and will beam down 1.5 terabytes of data — adequate to fill about 60 Blu-ray discs — every day, more than any other NASA mission. Two 18-metre dishes at the New Mexico base will obtain the transmissions.

With its solar panels extensive, the SDO satellite is more than six meters wide and 4.5 meters long. Its five-year mission is to examine the sun's magnetic field and how it generates solar wind, solar flares and other phenomena, recognized as space weather. Our sun affects our lives more and more as we depend progressively on technology, said NASA project scientist William Dean Pesnell.

Space weather can influence communications, power grids, GPS satellites and other technological systems on Earth. The $856-million US instrument is the first mission of NASA's Living with a Star program, which has a goal of studying how the performance of the sun affects life on Earth.

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