Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Solar Dynamics Observatory Investigates the Sun's Cycle of Highs and Lows

This illustration shows convoluted magnetic field lines extending out all over the sun

How intense will the next solar cycle be? Can we predict when a violent solar storm will blast Earth with energetic particles? Could a prolonged period of inactivity on the sun plunge Earth into a prolonged winter? These are a few of the questions that scientists anticipate the new Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) will help to answer.

“The sun is a magnetic variable star that fluctuates on time scales ranging from a fraction of a second to billions of years,” says Madhulika Guhathakurta, lead program scientist for Living With a Star at NASA Headquarters, Washington, DC. “SDO will show us how variable the sun really is and will reveal the underlying physics of solar variability.”

Where Do Magnetic Fields Come From?

The sun's magnetic field powers all solar activity. Flows of hot, ionized gases in the sun's convection zone—the region inside the sun where hot gas parcels rise and transport energy toward the surface—act as electrical currents to generate the sun′s powerful magnetic fields.

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