For ten years now, NASA ‘s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) kept its eye on the Sun. The SDO stored as many as 425 million high-resolution images of the Sun that account for 20 million gigabytes of data over the past 10 years. The SDO ‘s focus on circling our world has been on only one goal– finding out how solar activity forms the broader solar system.
All its efforts have brought together a mesmerizing time-lapse video, one photo per hour of each of the preceding ten years. That’s almost the entire 11-year solar cycle of the Sun, and although it falls just short of that, it’s adequate to catch some of the most striking events we’ve seen. Giant plasma waves have also been sighted flying up to 3 million miles per hour around the star.
The Solar Dynamics Observatory was launched on 11 February 2010 and is actually three instruments in one. There is the Extreme Ultraviolet Variability Experiment (EVE), which measures the Sun’s extreme ultraviolet irradiance, mainly responsible for heating the upper atmosphere on Earth and the Helioseismic and Magnetic Imager (HMI), which takes measurements of the Sun’s magnetic field in high resolution. That lets scientists understand how on the surface magnetic field and its behavior the physical processes occurring within the star manifest. Lastly, the Atmospheric Imaging Assembly (AIA) tracks the entire Sun’s disk through seven intense ultraviolet canals.
For as long as the instruments are in working order the SDO can continue to observe. NASA has planned for another decade of observations of the Sun but for that, the SDO will be replaced by the latest Solar Orbiter, a joint NASA-European Space Agency mission. It will have an inclined orbit, making it easier to see the polar regions of the Sun, as the two missions will also be able to focus on 3D images of the star and beneath its surface structures.