Bad Astronomy

Happy 3rd Anniversary to SDO!

NASA SDO image of a solar prominence
An arching prominence erupts off the Sun’s surface, as seen by SDO on Aug. 31, 2012. The Earth would be a tiny dot on this scale. Click to ensolarnate.

Image credit: NASA/GSFC/SDO

Three years ago today—Feb. 11, 2010—NASA launched the most sophisticated and capable Sun watcher in history: SDO, the Solar Dynamics Observatory. Equipped with a huge range of detectors, SDO has kept an unblinking eye on the Sun 24 hours a day for over 1000 days now.

It has returned to Earth valuable data on our tempestuous star, including pictures that wring dry my supply of adjectives. Jaw-dropping. Mind-blowing. Spectacular.

In its honor, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center put together a simply gorgeous and moving video about SDO. Take the time to soak this in; make sure it’s set to the highest definition and make it full screen.


They have downloadable versions and links to more info on the GSFC site. I found myself smiling through this video, recognizing many of the segments, including several I’ve featured here on the blog over time. My favorites are the Transit of Venus (of course!), an erupting pillar of plasma, a huge arching prominence erupting from the Sun’s side (shown above at the top of this post), and an eclipse of the Sun by the Earth itself, when SDO passed through the Earth’s shadow.


As the Sun enters the peak of its magnetic cycle over the next few months we’ll be seeing more activity from it, and SDO will be out there in space watching carefully, helping us understand the nearest star in the Universe.


…and let me leave you with this: Video of the launch of SDO taken in 2010 by my friend Barbara Tomlinson. When the Atlas V rocket breaks the speed of sound, the shock wave sends ripples through the clouds, just as it passes a rainbow-hued sundog in the sky. It happens at 1:50 in the video, and you just have to see it to believe it.

Barbara posted a slow-motion version as well. NoisyAstronomer has a still photo from the event, too.

My thanks and congratulations to everyone on the SDO team. Here’s to many, many more years of staring at the Sun.