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NASA Solar Dynamics Observatory turns 1 (photos)

As it marks its first year in space, the spacecraft keeps sending back stunning, detailed images in an effort to better understand the sun's influence on Earth.

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james-martin-profile-crop
James Martin
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1 of 14 NASA/SDO

Three wavelengths of extreme ultraviolet light

One year ago, NASA launched the Solar Dynamics Observatory on an Atlas rocket from Cape Canaveral. Since then it has returned millions of images of the sun with incredible detail.

This image, taken on Friday, exactly one year to the day after the spacecraft's February 11, 2010 launch, combines three wavelengths of extreme ultraviolet light.

The Atmospheric Imaging Assembly, one of the three instruments onboard, creates an image of the sun every 12 seconds in 10 different wavelengths, giving detailed analysis of the sun at different temperatures.

The Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) continues to send images of phenomena like solar flares and coronal mass ejections back at a rate of 150 megabits per second.





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2 of 14 NASA/SDO

Earth and the Sun

One of the first images taken by SDO and still a favorite: a solar eruptive prominence as seen in extreme UV light on March 30, 2010. Earth is superimposed for a sense of scale.
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3 of 14 NASA/SDO

Solar flares on display

Solar flares on display in extreme ultraviolet light. NASA said the resulting swirl of magnetic field lines, which was made visible by particles spinning along them, "connected and reconnected several times."
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4 of 14 NASA/Goddard/SDO

Gas that reaches temperatures over a million degrees

Bursts of gas jet off the surface of the sun at 150,000 miles per hour. The gas reaches temperatures of more than 1 million degrees Kelvin, or 1,799,540 Farenheit
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5 of 14 NASA/SDO

A mass of plasma

A mass of plasma was photographed spinning above the sun's surface for more than two days last October. Around the same time, the SDO observed a shorter-lived eruption, which blew away into space near the upper left edge of the sun.
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6 of 14 NASA/SDO

Magnetic field line

Magnetic field lines and their interactions superimposed on an extreme ultraviolet image. The field lines are most dense around active regions on the sun.
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7 of 14 NASA/SDO

Passing between the SDO and the Sun

Passing between the SDO and the sun, a new moon darkens SDO's view, creating a partial eclipse of the sun.
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8 of 14 NASA/SDO

Strands of plasma

Strands of plasma erupt and create so-called "prominences," formed of cooler clouds of gases suspended by often unstable magnetic forces. Their eruptions are fairly common, but this one was larger and clearer to see than most.
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9 of 14 NASA/SDO

Looping arcs of plasma

Looping arcs of plasma--actually, charged particles--in profile.
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10 of 14 NASA/SDO

Varying gas temperatures

This is an extreme ultraviolet image where false colors trace varying gas temperatures. Reds trace the relatively cool temperatures (about 60,000 Kelvin, or 107,540 Fahrenheit); blues and greens are hotter (greater than 1 million Kelvin, or 1,799,540 Farenheit).
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11 of 14 NASA/SDO

Magnetically open regions

The sun is a dense, cluttered mass with magnetically open holes that stream high-speed solar wind into space. In this image, one of these coronal holes was photographed stretching across the top half of the sun.
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12 of 14 NASA/SDO

Solar filament erupts

SDO captured this image of a very long--nearly 1 million kilometers--solar filament. You can see it erupting along the lower left portion of the image.
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13 of 14 NASA/SDO

Filaments erupt and burst into space

A view from SDO of the unstable clouds of cooler gases that are suspended above the sun by the star's magnetic forces.

At times, these filaments erupt and burst into space, as seen here, and other times, they just fade away.

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14 of 14 NASA/SDO

An artist's concept of the Solar Dynamics Observatory

An artist's concept of the Solar Dynamics Observatory.

SDO is the first mission in a NASA program called Living With a Star, an initiative to furthur scientific understanding to address aspects of the sun-Earth system that directly affect our lives and society.

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