NASA’S Solar Dynamics Observatory

25 Jul 2021

OSR blog post

The Solar Dynamics Observatory collects data for scientists to study the Sun. Read on to learn more about their research.

Our Sun impacts everything around us. Its energy, in the form of solar flares and coronal mass ejections, can disable satellites, power grids, and GPS positions. In addition, its energy can affect the weather patterns on Earth. In 2010, NASA launched The Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO).  Its mission focuses on understanding the Sun and its impacts on Earth.

Solar Dynamics Observatory

NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory has provided high-definition images of the Sun for over a decade. High-speed cameras on SDO take rapid snapshots of solar flares and other magnetic activity. As a result, the images give scientists detailed views of various solar phenomena. Solar flares can spark space weather and affect our astronauts and technology on Earth and in space. Therefore, scientists want to predict solar flares and coronal mass ejections. In addition, the goal of the SDO is to provide as much information as possible to help them. In addition to prediction, scientists want the following information.

  • How is the Sun’s magnetic field generated and structured?
  • How does its stored energy convert and release into the heliosphere? These energies move in the form of solar wind and energetic particles.

The Observatory

According to NASA, the SDO is one of the largest solar observing spacecraft ever placed into orbit. Its solar panels are 6.5 meters (21.3 ft) wide when extended.  These giant panels provide SDO all the power it needs from the Sun. Furthermore, the spacecraft’s total mass at launch weighed in at a hefty 3,100 kg (6,800 lb).

Each day in orbit, SDO gathers as much as 1.4 terabytes of data. Scientists, educators, and members of the general public can browse this huge volume of data. In addition, the data collected by the Solar Dynamic Observatory gives researchers a powerful new way to view the Sun.

Instruments to Collect Data 

After ten years in orbit, the SDO continues to collect large amounts of data. For example, NASA states that the amount of data and images SDO beams back per day is equivalent to downloading half a million songs each day. NASA has a pair of dedicated radio antennas near Las Cruces, New Mexico, to collect this amount of information. SDO’s geosynchronous orbit keeps the observatory constant view of the two 18-meter dishes 24 hours a day.

What instruments collect the data for NASA?

The Solar Dynamics Observatory has three main instruments.

The Extreme Ultraviolet Variability Experiment (EVE)- This tool measures fluctuations in the Sun’s ultraviolet output. EUV radiation from the Sun has a direct and powerful effect on Earth’s upper atmosphere. It affects the atmosphere by heating it and breaking apart atoms and molecules.

The Helioseismic and Magnetic Imager (HMI) maps solar surface magnetic fields. It also looks beneath the Sun’s opaque surface using a technique called helioseismology.

The Atmospheric Imaging Assembly (AIA) battery of four telescopes is designed to photograph the Sun’s surface and atmosphere. The AIA filters cover 10 different wavelength bands or colors. Each band or color reveals key aspects of solar activity. This creates a wealth of information about the Sun. However, the AIA degrades over time, and the data needs to be frequently calibrated.

Currently, NASA has employed the use of AI technology to calibrate the AIA. In addition, they continue to monitor the Sun and collect data.