The Solar Dynamics Observatory was perched atop an Atlas V rocket that thundered skyward early Thursday from Florida's Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on the Atlantic coast. NASA said the spacecraft was "in good shape" midway through its launch trajectory.
Ultimately, the SDO will hover over Earth in a geosynchronous orbit for five years at more than 22,000 miles above the planet's surface, NASA said.
The observatory will then point its instruments directly at the sun in order to measure the star's magnetic activity and collect other data. "The research is expected to reveal the sun's inner workings by constantly taking high-resolution images of the sun," NASA said.
Indeed, SDO will capture images in a spatial resolution of 4096 x 4096 pixels to deliver pictures that are almost IMAX quality in terms of sharpness and clarity, "providing details of the sun and its features that have rarely been seen before," according to NASA.
The space agency said it hopes data yielded by the SDO will give scientists the ability to predict storms, sun spots, winds and other solar activity that can interfere with communications and other activity on Earth and affect orbiting spacecraft and satellites.
The SDO's launch comes at a time when NASA is under budgetary pressure to redirect funds from manned space missions to more Earth-bound areas of focus, such as climate change.
President Obama's budget request for the current fiscal year would terminate the Constellation program, which calls for NASA to return humans to the moon no later than 2020.
Still, it appears NASA will continue research on the sun. After all, as Springsteen told his mama, that's where the fun is.
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