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NASA reschedules solar mission

NASA has delayed the launch of its Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) because of high winds at the Kennedy Space Center launch site.


Computers automatically halted the countdown at least five minutes before the blast off of the observatory’s Atlas V rocket.

A new attempt will be made Thursday at 1523 GMT, when a one hour launch window opens, NASA said. If that fails, it can try again Friday but beyond that the space agency will have to completely reschedule the flight.

The observatory is poised for a five-year mission that scientists hope will help unravel the mysteries of how the sun’s magnetic field affects the rest of our solar system.

US scientists, who have targeted the sun as the next frontier for space research, said they hope the probe will be especially helpful in revealing how changes in the sun alter the levels of radiation and energy within our solar system.

Those changes, which scientists call space weather, can affect communications and satellite signals, electrical power lines, and other objects and energy transmissions in our atmosphere and beyond.

NASA said that there was a 40 percent chance that cloudy and windy conditions, as well as threatening showers, could cause a delay in Wednesday’s liftoff.

Telescopes and other gear onboard the probe will scrutinize sunspots and solar flares using more pixels and colors than any other observatory in the history of solar physics.

“SDO is the cornerstone, the foundation mission for the next decade of solar research,” said Richard Fisher, heliophysics division director at NASA.

The SDO will take continuous high definition images of the sun, transmitting the data back to Earth for processing.

Dean Pesnell, an SDO project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Spaceflight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, said findings gleaned from the research would be potentially groundbreaking.

“The sun affects our life more and more as we come to depend more and more on technology,” Pesnell said.

“Most of the effects come from the ever-changing magnetic field of the sun. SDO is designed to study that magnetic field from its creation to its destruction and how it then can affect the Earth.”

SDO will orbit the Earth once every 24 hours, sending solar scientists a continuous stream of high-resolution data throughout its five-year mission.

NASA said the spacecraft will send about 1.5 terabytes of data back to Earth each day — the equivalent of streaming 380 full-length movies.

The data SDO collects will give scientists the most detailed look yet of the sun and its inner workings. It is hoped this new information will give them insights into the mysteries of the solar cycle that can better protect us from the effects of space weather.

US physicists said that if they can get a better understanding of the sun’s magnetic field, they can predict how it affects the solar system and near-Earth space to create space weather.

NASA said that among the questions researchers hope to answer is how the sun’s magnetic field is generated and how stored magnetic energy changes into kinetic energy, in the form of the solar wind and energetic particles.

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