We soon will be celebrating the anniversary of launching of The Solar Dynamics Observatory!
- SDO launched on February 11, 2010, 10:23 am EST on an Atlas V from SLC 41 from Cape Canaveral.
SDO’s goal is to understand, driving towards a predictive capability, the solar variations that influence life on Earth and humanity’s technological systems by determining
- how the Sun’s magnetic field is generated and structured
- how this stored magnetic energy is converted and released into the heliosphere and geospace in the form of solar wind, energetic particles, and variations in the solar irradiance.
The Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) is the first mission to be launched for NASA’s Living With a Star (LWS) Program, a program designed to understand the causes of solar variability and its impacts on Earth. SDO is designed to help us understand the Sun’s influence on Earth and near-Earth space by studying the solar atmosphere on small scales of space and time and in many wavelengths simultaneously.
With the exception of the slow evolutionary changes in solar structure over the last 4.5 billion years, almost all solar variability is magnetic in origin. The solar cycle is a magnetic cycle in which the Sun’s magnetic poles reverse with a periodicity of approximately 11 years and intense magnetic fields erupt through the surface in sunspots whose numbers wax and wane with the cycle. Solar flares and coronal mass ejections occur when magnetic fields are stressed beyond their limits. The very structure of the corona and the solar wind is determined by the structure of the magnetic field. The heating of the Sun’s corona and the acceleration of the solar wind are thought to be due to interaction between small-scale magnetic elements.
Today I thought it would be cool to celebrate the anniversary of the SDO launch by taking a daily still from the SDO of the sun for February 8th 2010-2019. You can clearly see the Sun’s activity wax and wane.
The sun is a churning celestial body with a lot going on. On top of singular episodes like flares, the sun experiences various cycles that last years, decades and longer. And these chapters in solar activity are full of lulls and highs that affect Earth in many ways.
During the cycle’s quiet period, known as solar minimum, Earth’s outermost atmospheric layer can shrink. This, in turn, can cause a lingering of space junk that poses a threat to orbiting spacecraft. And during the sun’s opposite season, called solar maximum, sunspots and flares increase in number, producing powerful solar storms that can disrupt communications systems and even cause a blackout.
Since the human race started monitoring the Sun’s activity it has become evident that the number of sunspots rises and falls over time. Generally speaking this occurs over a period of approximately 11 years, although it can be anything up to 14 or 15 years, and is called the Solar Cycle. During any given Solar Cycle, the number of sunspots rises to a maximum (Solar Maximum) and falls to a minimum (Solar Minimum).
Sun’s 2013 Solar Activity Peak was Weakest in 100 Years and the next one could be even more quiescent.
Here at GSM we not only follow the Sun’s normal rise and fall of minima and maxima. We seek out facts on the Grand Solar Minimum.
The Maunder Minimum was a period from 1645 to 1715 where almost no sunspots were seen. This span of time corresponded to a medieval period known as the Little Ice Age. During this era, the Thames River in London froze, making Christmas “Frost Fairs” possible on the ice covered river. Several villages in the Swiss Alps were also consumed by encroaching glaciers, and the Viking colony established in Greenland perished. The name for the period comes from Edward Maunder, who first noted the minimum in papers published in the 1890s. The term came into modern vogue after John Eddy published a paper on the subject in the journal of Science in 1976. Keep in mind, the data from the period covered by the Maunder Minimum is far from complete— Galileo had only started sketching sunspots via projection only a few decades prior to the start of the Maunder Minimum. But tellingly, there was a span of time in the early 18th century when many researchers supposed that sunspots were a myth! They were really THAT infrequent…
As we develop this website we will be adding a learning center. We look forward to educating more people on the subjects of Grand Solar Minimums and Climate Change. Stay tuned for more information being added to the library documenting the unfolding of the next grand minimum.