While many people celebrated Earth Day on Thursday, NASA had its eye on the sun.
The space agency released stunning new images of the sun that have been sent back by its Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), which was launched into space on February 11.
The craft is just beginning its five-year mission, which will help scientists learn more about our sun's dynamic processes, examining the sun's magnetic field and researching the role the sun plays in Earth's atmospheric chemistry and climate.
This full-disk multiwavelength extreme ultraviolet image of the sun was taken by the SDO on March 30. The false colors denote different gas temperatures. Reds are relatively cool (at least in terms of the sun) at about 60,000 Kelvin, or 107,540 degrees Fahrenheit, while the blues and greens are hotter, at more than 1 million Kelvin, or 1,799,540 degrees Fahrenheit.
Bursts of material from the sun generate magnetic reconnection events in Earth's magnetic field. Eventually, this sends high-speed electrons and protons into Earth's upper atmosphere, which forms aurorae.
The SDO sends 1.5 terabytes of data back to Earth each day. Three main observation tools include the Helioseismic and Magnetic Imager, which maps solar magnetic fields; a group of four telescopes known as the Atmospheric Imaging Assembly, which photograph the sun's surface and atmosphere; and the Extreme Ultraviolet Variability Experiment, which measures fluctuations in the sun's radiant emissions.
"These initial images show a dynamic sun that I had never seen in more than 40 years of solar research," said Richard Fisher, director of the Heliophysics Division at NASA's Washington headquarters. "SDO will change our understanding of the sun and its processes, which affect our lives and society. This mission will have a huge impact on science, similar to the impact of the Hubble Space Telescope on modern astrophysics," said Fisher.
The Solar Dynamics Observatory in the clean room. NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., built, operates, and manages the SDO spacecraft for the agency's Science Mission Directorate in Washington.