Monday, February 08, 2010

NASA Solar Observatory set for Wednesday Launch

A NASA satellite will embark on a multi-year mission to research and the Sun's effect on earth, as well as the dynamics of the solar flares which create space weather.

The Solar Dynamics Observatory was cleared for launch aboard an Atlas 5 rocket from Cape Canaveral, FL on Wednesday morning at 10:26:00 am EST. The launch window is one hour.

The spacecraft will operate using three science gathering instruments, and according to NASA when the amount of data starts to flow in it will get busy.

The main source of data collection will come from the Atmospheric Imaging Assembly, or AIA. Using four photographic telescopes, AIA will focus on the Sun's atmosphere going all the way down to the surface photographing with much greater detail what it observes than on past solar missions.

SDO will send back nearly 1 GB of data about the solar weather every 36 seconds, according to NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.

"SDO is going to send us images ten times better than high definition television," says Dean Pesnell, the project scientist for the SDO mission. "A typical HDTV screen has 720 by 1280 pixels; SDO's images will have almost four times that number in the horizontal direction and five times in the vertical. “The pixel count is comparable to an IMAX movie -- an IMAX filled with the raging sun, 24 hours a day."

Pesnell also adds that the science team will receive "IMAX-quality images every ten seconds".

A second experiment The Helioseismic and Magnetic Imager (HMI) focuses on the outer shell of the Sun as it studies the magnetic field. The instrument will basically study the photosphere (Sun's surface) as it looks at the billions of ripples which move across the surface every day. These studies will help scientists at Stanford University work to figure out the Sun's internal makeup and activity. will have LIVE launch coverage beginning at 8AM EST on Wednesday. Follow our updates via Twitter: @spacelaunchnews.

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