The Sun has been photographed a whopping 100 million times by a telescope on board a NASA spacecraft.
The Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) contains three instruments, one of which is the Atmospheric Imaging Assembly (AIA), responsible for capturing the milestone photo on Monday January 19, according to NASA officials.
NASA: “Living with a Star”
“Between the AIA and two other instruments on board, the Helioseismic Magnetic Imager and the Extreme Ultraviolet Variability Experiment, SDO sends down a whopping 1.5 terabytes of data a day,” NASA officials said. “AIA is responsible for about half of that. Every day it provides 57,600 detailed images of the sun that show the dance of how solar material sways and sometimes erupts in the solar atmosphere, the corona.”
The instrument was built at the Lockheed Martin Solar and Astrophysics Laboratory in Palo Alto, California. The four telescopes contained within the instrument take eight pictures of the sun every 12 seconds, in 10 different wavelengths.
SDO’s mission is to collect measurements and observations which will hopefully allow a better understanding of the sun’s magnetic field, how it is generated and why it changes. It entered Earth’s orbit in February 2010 as the inaugural mission in NASA’s “Living with a Star” program, at a cost of $850 million.
Solar activity and its effects
It is hoped that the vast amounts of data collected during the mission will enable scientists to improve their understanding of space weather, important for satellite operations and even power infrastructure on Earth’s surface.
Scientists have previously worked out that solar activity follows an 11-year cycle, and our star is currently in an active phase of what is known as Solar Cycle 24. Over the past few months of the current cycle the sun has let off various solar flares and superheated clouds of plasma known as coronal mass ejections.
Despite its recent activity the sun is going through a relatively quiet cycle, which scientists say has the weakest “solar max” of the last one hundred years or so.