UK Provides E-ffective Access To Upcoming Solar Dynamics Observatory
Details of UK involvement in the upcoming mission to study the Sun were outlined at the RAS National Astronomy Meeting in Birmingham yesterday.
Dr Lidia van Driel-Gesztelyi of UCL's Mullard Space Science Laboratory made a presentation on NASA's Solar Dynamic Observatory mission, which is due for launch in 2008.
The Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) will carry helioseismic instrumentation to study oscillations caused by sound waves trapped in the solar interior and sensors to measure the strength and direction of magnetic field at the Sun's surface.
The spacecraft will also make high-resolution images of the solar atmosphere at ten separate Extreme Ultra Violet (EUV) wavelengths and measure the absolute radiation output of the Sun in the EUV spectral range.
The UK is playing a major role in this international solar mission.
A consortium of British scientists is developing eSDO, a project designed to give the UK solar-terrestrial physics community easy access to the data received from the spacecraft.
The data volume received on the ground from SDO will amount to around two million million bytes each day equivalent to 3000 Cds. The UK team must provide scientists with effective access to this enormous data volume.
They will write specialist computer programmes for the efficient analysis of the helioseismology, magnetic field and atmospheric imaging data, and will develop data-summary formats to allow high-speed browsing for particular phenomena in the SDO databases.
The team will also enable distributed processing and storage of the SDO data using the architecture developed by the UK AstroGrid project. This requires Grid-compatible software and must ensure access to appropriate data centres in both the US and the UK.
In addition to the data related activities, the cameras for the SDO imaging instruments are being developed under a NASA contract at CCLRC Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, using CCDs produced by the E2V company.
SDO will continue work started by the joint NASA-ESA mission, SOHO, which was launched in late 1995.
Technological advances mean that the SDO spacecraft can observe the full Sun continuously with 1 arc sec resolution and will have a data rate approximately ten thousand times greater than that available to SOHO.
As Prof Len Culhane, the Principal Investigator for eSDO explains, "Following the outstanding success of SOHO, the SDO mission will provide the next major advances in heleioseismology and will for the first time allow the connection between the Sun's interior and its outer atmosphere to be directly examined".
SDO is the first mission in NASA's new research programme, "Living with a Star", which aims to clarify the Sun's role in influencing the near-Earth environment and the Earth's climate.
To understand the impact of the Sun on the near-Earth environment in particular, it is first necessary to understand the Sun itself.
Forecasting the occurrence and magnetic configuration of Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs) would allow us to protect communications and other spacecraft in near-Earth orbits from their damaging effects.
Plasma streams, with a mass of approximately ten thousand billion kilograms, arrive at Earth some 40 hours after a CME is launched from the Sun.
When the plasma interacts with the Earth's magnetic field, it produces accelerated particles that can cause electronic failures in satellites and airplanes, immediate and long-term hazards to astronauts as well as aircraft crews.
SDO will give us a more complete picture of the generation of magnetic fields in the Sun's interior, their emergence through the solar surface and their interaction with the high temperature plasma that exists in the solar atmosphere or corona.
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