NASA has been taking pictures of the sun to predict solar forecasts and monitor the sun’s behavior. This is achieved through using a telescope that only filters ultraviolet light. In 2010, NASA launched a spacecraft, the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), which is designed to analyze the Sun’s magnetic field. With a better understanding of its characteristics, scientists are better equipped to anticipate when, and why, space storms occur.
The space agency’s mission has not only offered insight into the sun’s magnetic field but also offered an astonishing display of the sun’s appearance. Dean Pesnell, a SDO project scientist, told The National Journal that the telescope uniquely filters light in the ultraviolet wavelength. A sensor in most digital cameras, called the CCD, exists where the picture is taken. However, the human eye cannot detect light in short UV wavelengths–therefore, the colors in the photographs are made up. They are arbitrary, coded colors picked by NASA scientists. Without SDO, these wavelengths would have been invisible.
NASA is now snapping photographs at an unprecedented rate, keeping an eye on the sun 24 hours a day. The long-term goal is to grasp where the magnetic field of the sun originates– and how the field gets ejected and destroyed–in order to understand where space weather comes from. This is important because space weather has the potential to increase satellite drag and knock the satellite out of its orbit–damaging an expensive piece of hardware, tampering with GPS navigation satellites, and affecting the Earth’s essential power grid.
NASA’s ability to quickly take and reveal photos is gaining positive reinforcement from the public. Dean Pesnell says his favorite scene captured is the trebuchet prominence eruption. Pesnell intends to begin taking pictures which do not overexpose the flare region of a solar flare. The waves moving away from the region have intriguing behaviors, he says.