NASA Sun-Watching Probe Celebrates 5 Years in Space (Videos)

This image, taken by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory spacecraft on Feb. 10, 2015, shows a long filament of material snaking above the lower half of the sun.
This image, taken by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory spacecraft on Feb. 10, 2015, shows a long filament of material snaking above the lower half of the sun. (Image credit: NASA/SDO)

A prolific NASA's sun observatory is celebrated its fifth year in space this week, and the space agency marked the milestone with two new videos celebrating the probe's images and scientific accomplishments.

The Solar Dynamics Observatory launched Feb. 11, 2010, on a mission to help scientists better understand the sun's variability, and how that variability affects Earth. Five years later, the spacecraft is still returning gorgeous high-definition views of the sun, at a rate of nearly one image per second.

Indeed, the Atmospheric Imaging Assembly (AIA), one of three instruments flying aboard SDO, captured its 100 millionth sun photo last month. All of this information is keeping researchers very busy. [Highlights of SDO's 5 Years in Space (Video)]

"There have now been more than 2,000 scientific papers published based on SDO data," SDO project scientist Dean Pesnell, of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, said in a statement. "SDO has also led to wonderful international collaborations, with the data being shared and used all over the world."

NASA released two videos Wednesday to celebrate the mission's five-year anniversary. One condenses SDO's sun observations a single 3-minute video, while the other showcases some of the probe's most dramatic images, highlighting stunning shots of solar flares, coronal mass ejections and enormous sunspots.

In addition, a new video-art installation based on SDO imagery opened Wednesday at NASA Goddard's visitor center. The installation, called Solarium, boasts floor-to-ceiling pictures of the sun's spectacular, dynamic surface, NASA officials said.

SDO's other two instruments, in addition to AIA, are the Helioseismic and Magnetic Imager and the Extreme Ultraviolet Variability Experiment. This scientific gear sends 1.5 terabytes of data down to Earth every day, NASA officials said.

The SDO mission is designed to shed light on how the sun's magnetic field is generated, and how and why this field changes over time. Such information should 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.

But there's a visceral appeal to the probe's images that nonscientists can appreciate as well, SDO team members said.

"This mission has touched us on many levels; it evokes a sense of wonder when we see these beautiful images," said SDO program scientist Lika Guhathakurta, of NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C. "It stokes our curiosity and it connects us personally to the deepest mysteries — from the warmth we feel on our skin when we walk outside on a sunny day to the distant reaches of the cosmos."

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Mike Wall
Senior Space Writer

Michael Wall is a Senior Space Writer with and joined the team in 2010. He primarily covers exoplanets, spaceflight and military space, but has been known to dabble in the space art beat. His book about the search for alien life, "Out There," was published on Nov. 13, 2018. Before becoming a science writer, Michael worked as a herpetologist and wildlife biologist. He has a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology from the University of Sydney, Australia, a bachelor's degree from the University of Arizona, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. To find out what his latest project is, you can follow Michael on Twitter.