NASA poised to launch solar watchdog

Di Tulis Oleh Kucheng Ling

The sun will soon come under its closest scrutiny yet with NASA's $808 million Solar Dynamics Observatory. The spacecraft will study how solar activity gets its start, revealing more about the sun's wide variability, which can knock out space satellites and power grids and affect Earth's climate.

Solar storms can wreak havoc on space satellites and power grids, but predicting when they will happen and what causes them is still an ongoing mystery.

One surprise in recent years has been the discovery of solar tsunamis – waves that can spread across the surface of the sun and trigger the release of high-energy particles. These tsunamis can originate in a distant part of the sun but trigger events that directly impact Earth.

NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory will be able to image the whole disc of the sun in high resolution every 10 seconds, providing an unprecedented look at these waves.