February 11, 2010

NASA Launches Solar Dynamics Observatory

NASA has lunched the SDO into geosynchronous orbit, 22,000 miles above the Earth.  The Solar Dynamics Observatory will measure the Sun's magnetic activity and try to reveal more about how the Sun works.

"The depth of the solar minimum in 2008-2009 really took us by surprise," says sunspot expert David Hathaway of the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. "It highlights how far we still have to go to successfully forecast solar activity."

That's a problem, because human society is increasingly vulnerable to solar flare ups. Modern people depend on a network of interconnected high-tech systems for the basics of daily life. Smart power grids, GPS navigation, air travel, financial services, emergency radio communications-they can all be knocked out by intense solar activity. According to a 2008 study by the National Academy of Sciences, a century-class solar storm could cause twenty times more economic damage than Hurricane Katrina.

"Understanding solar variability is crucial," says space scientist Judith Lean of the Naval Research Lab in Washington DC. "Our modern way of life depends upon it."

Not to mention the effects of the Sun on the Earth's climate.

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