Wednesday, February 10, 2010

New Solar Probe to Launch Thursday

Launch of rocket with solar probe reset for Thursday
(CNN) -- NASA has postponed for one day the scheduled launch of a rocket carrying a solar probe.

The space agency plans to launch an Atlas V rocket carrying its Solar Dynamics Observatory, which it says will study the sun "in greater detail than ever before."


The agency says the observatory will provide a better understanding of the sun and its role in space weather events such as solar flares, which can wreak havoc on Earth.

The observatory is designed to deliver solar images with resolution 10 times better than high-definition television, according to NASA.

The five-year mission "will determine how the sun's magnetic field is generated, structured and converted into violent solar events like turbulent solar wind, solar flares and Coronal Mass Ejections," according to the agency.

The solar wind, a stream of electrically charged particles flowing out from the sun, fills the entire solar system with charged particles and magnetic fields, according to NASA.

Solar flares are actual explosions in the sun's atmosphere, the largest of them equal to billions of one-megaton nuclear bombs. And Coronal Mass Ejections, or CMEs, are eruptions that launch solar material into space at a high rate of speed.

Such events can put astronauts at risk, as well as aircraft flying over Earth's North or South Poles, and can also disrupt satellite communications, navigational systems and power grids, NASA said. In 1969, for instance, a solar current knocked a power grid serving Quebec, Canada, off-line for nine hours. "That's a direct impact on life and society," said Richard Fisher, director of NASA's Heliophysics Division.


There's no way to predict space weather. Officials hope the Solar Dynamics Observatory can provide information to help change that.

"This is the most advanced spacecraft we've ever designed to study the sun and its dynamic behavior," Fisher said. The sun, he said, "has this trick of converting magnetic energy into other kinds of energy that can affect the Earth."

"I believe we're up to the point now where we can probably predict when something like this is more or less likely and you can at least take precautions," Fisher said about solar weather. A warning system, for example, could help power grid operators avoid an outage by taking some of the grid's load off or finding alternative configurations.

The sun's effect wasn't an issue for the Earth until the technological advances in electronics over the last hundred years, he said.

The observatory is "going to give us good awareness of the dynamics of the sun, and we're going to be able to make estimates on when we should take precautions with our satellites or with airline operations or with Department of Defense systems," Fisher said. "We have an increasing pressure on science to try and predict what's going to happen on the sun, and that's the scientific bent of this (SDO) satellite, is to try to get a handle on it." [...]

The solar storm they mention, affecting Qubec in 1969. I think they meant 1989 (see link below). The damage done to Quebec's power grid very nearly had a domino effect that came close to bringing down much of the power grid on the North American continent. A huge disaster that was only narrowly avoided.

This is very important solar research. We are continually becoming more and more dependent on advanced electronics, which are increasingly fragile and vulnerable to solar weather. We need a warning system, so we can take precautions to protect our electronic infrastructure. Failure is not an option.

Also see:

Solar Flare: The "Carrington Event" of 1859

The Solar Storm that hit Quebec in 1989


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Ah, This is exactly what I was looking for! Clears up
some misnomers I've read