SDO (Solar Dynamics Observatory) changed how we ponder our Sun. Launched on February 11, 2010, SDO became NASA’s first solar observatory. No larger than a minivan, purposeful and dedicated, SDO’s singular objective is to understand how solar activity impacts Earth. Instruments measure the Sun’s interior, magnetic field and plasma of the solar corona simultaneously – one mission, to understand space weather in relation to Earth and near-Earth space.
Space weather refers to the effects of solar wind on Earth’s magnetosphere, ionosphere and thermosphere. Conditions attributed to constant flows, punctuated by violent eruptions of solar plasma – charged particles, flung outwards from the Sun at speeds up to 1 million mph. Auroras, mesmerizing spectacles driven by clashes with solar plasma appear innocent enough – space weather has far greater ramifications.
Solar wind driven plasma is responsible for bending or obliterating radio waves, disrupting navigation systems, forcing airplanes to change course, decayed orbits of satellites, temporarily knocking out cell phone service and complete failure of power grids.During an intense geomagnetic storm in October of 2003, 46 0f 70 spacecraft failures were attributed to space weather. In March 1989, 3 minutes after impact of a severe solar storm, Quebec’s power grid was annihilated for 9 hours.
Over the next few weeks I’ll dissect space weather into digestible bites. Meanwhile, take a moment to witness one of SDO’s greatest gifts –