100 Million Sun Photos! NASA Spacecraft Hits Shutterbug Milestone
NASA's powerful Solar Dynamics Observatory has taken its 100 millionth photo of the sun with its Advanced Imaging Assembly instrument. The space-based observatory hit the photo milestone on Jan. 19. 2015.
Credit: NASA/SDO/AIA/LMSAL

A telescope aboard a prolific sun-watching NASA spacecraft has captured its 100 millionth image of Earth's parent star.

The Atmospheric Imaging Assembly (AIA), one of three instruments flying on the sun-studying Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), captured its mind-boggling 100 millionth sun photo on Monday (Jan. 19), NASA officials said.

"Between the AIA and two other instruments on board, the Helioseismic Magnetic Imager and the Extreme Ultraviolet Variability Experiment, SDO sends down a whopping 1.5 terabytes of data a day," NASA officials said in a statement. "AIA is responsible for about half of that. Every day it provides 57,600 detailed images of the sun that show the dance of how solar material sways and sometimes erupts in the solar atmosphere, the corona."

The version of the 100 millionth image from the Advanced Imaging Assembly on NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory combines hundreds of previous AIA images. All the sun pictures in the mosaic were taken in extreme ultraviolet light with a wavelength of 193 angstroms.
The version of the 100 millionth image from the Advanced Imaging Assembly on NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory combines hundreds of previous AIA images. All the sun pictures in the mosaic were taken in extreme ultraviolet light with a wavelength of 193 angstroms.
Credit: NASA/SDO/Mosaic created with AndreaMosaic

AIA was built at the Lockheed Martin Solar and Astrophysics Laboratory in Palo Alto, California. The instrument consists of four telescopes, which work together to collect eight images of the sun in 10 different wavelengths every 12 seconds.

The $850 million SDO mission launched to Earth orbit in February 2010. It's the first mission in NASA's "Living with a Star" program, which aims to help scientists better understand solar variability and how it affects life on Earth.

SDO's measurements and observations are designed to shed light on how the sun's magnetic field is generated, and how and why this field changes over time. The mission's voluminous data could help scientists get a better handle on space weather, which can affect satellite operations in Earth orbit as well as power infrastructure on the planet's surface.

Many of us take the sun for granted, giving it little thought until it scorches our skin or gets in our eyes. But our star is a fascinating and complex object, a gigantic fusion reactor that gives us life. How much do you know about the sun?
This image, captured by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) on March 10, 2012, shows an active region on the sun, seen as the bright spot to the right. Designated AR 1429, the spot has so far produced three X-class flares and numerous M-class flares.
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Solar Quiz: How Well Do You Know Our Sun?
Many of us take the sun for granted, giving it little thought until it scorches our skin or gets in our eyes. But our star is a fascinating and complex object, a gigantic fusion reactor that gives us life. How much do you know about the sun?
This image, captured by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) on March 10, 2012, shows an active region on the sun, seen as the bright spot to the right. Designated AR 1429, the spot has so far produced three X-class flares and numerous M-class flares.
0 of questions complete

Solar activity waxes and wanes on an 11-year cycle. The sun is in an active phase of the current cycle, which is known as Solar Cycle 24; the star has blasted out a number of powerful solar flares and  superheated clouds of plasma called coronal mass ejections over the past few months.

But Solar Cycle 24 has been a quiet one overall, featuring the weakest "solar max" of any cycle in the last century or so, scientists say.

Follow Mike Wall on Twitter @michaeldwall and Google+. Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook or Google+. Originally published on Space.com.