This is the first mission of NASA's Living With a Star program, which seeks to reveal how solar activity is generated and to understand the causes of solar variability and its impact on Earth.
How intense will the next solar cycle be? Can we predict when a violent solar storm will blast Earth with energetic particles? Could a prolonged period of inactivity on the Sun plunge Earth into a prolonged winter? These are a few of the questions that scientists anticipate the new Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) will help to answer.
Scheduled to launch this winter on an Atlas V rocket, SDO will peer into the Sun's atmosphere and probe the Sun's inner workings. SDO is the first mission of NASA's Living With a Star program, which seeks to reveal how solar activity is generated and to understand the causes of solar variability and its impact on Earth.
"Contrary to popular belief, the Sun is a magnetic variable star," Says Madhulika Guhathakurta, lead program scientist for Living With a Star at NASA Headquarters, Washington. "SDO will show us just how variable the Sun really is and will reveal the underlying physics of solar variability."
To accomplish the ambitious goals of the science team, "SDO will take full-disk, high-definition images of the Sun all of the time," says project manager Liz Citrin at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland. Previous missions could not capture images at as rapid a cadence as SDO will, nor did they have the bandwidth to transmit all of the data back to Earth for processing. "These advances will provide the data to better understand how the Sun works and will allow us to develop the tools to predict its behavior."