Nasa to launch mission to unravel sun's secrets

The US space agency hopes the mission — scheduled for February 9 from Space Launch Complex-41, Cape Canaveral AFS, Florida — will help understand the causes of extreme solar activities such as sun spots and solar winds and flares.

According to Nasa, after its launch, the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) will spend five years in orbit trying to discover how such solar phenomena are created.

By understanding those activities, the scientists hope they will be able to produce reliable forecasts of “space weather” and provide advance warnings of any threat, “The Sunday Times” reported.

Scientists have long said that solar disturbances on the sun can trigger dangerous x-rays, charged particles and magnetic fields that can disrupt power supplies, communication signals and aircraft navigation systems on earth.

“It is Nasa’s first weather mission and it aims to characterise everything on the sun that can impact on the earth and near earth,” said project scientist Barbara Thompson.

“We know things happen on the sun which affect spacecraft, communications and radio signals. If we can understand the underlying causes of what is happening then we can turn this information into forecasts.”

The key thing about the mission, Thompson said, is that it is not just pure science for its own sake. “There is likely to be a direct and immediate benefit for people.”

Orbiting the earth at a distance of 22,300 miles, the observatory will measure fluctuations in the sun’s ultraviolet output, map magnetic fields and photograph its surface and atmosphere.

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