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NASA Sun-Watching Spacecraft Celebrates 4th Birthday with Amazing Video

A NASA sun-studying probe celebrates four years in space this week, and the agency has released a stunning new video to mark the occasion.

The amazing new video of the sun, which NASA released Tuesday, is a greatest-hits set from the space agency's powerful Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), which is celebrating its fourth year in space. The video showcases some of SDO's most dramatic and beautiful images from the last 12 months.

The nearly four-minute movie includes footage of sunspots, solar flares— powerful blasts of light in X-ray and other wavelengths — and prominence eruptions, which send loops of solar material out into the sun's atmosphere.

NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory blasted off from Florida's Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Feb. 11, 2010, on a mission to study solar activity and help scientists understand how variations in that activity affect life here on Earth.

"Scientists study these images to better understand the complex electromagnetic system causing the constant movement on the sun, which can ultimately have an effect closer to Earth, too: Flares and another type of solar explosion called coronal mass ejections can sometimes disrupt technology in space," NASA officials wrote in a description of the video. nasa-sun-observatory-fourth-anniversary-video-sdo

SDO captures high-resolution views of the sun in 10 different wavelengths 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The probe records images of the solar atmosphere in unprecedented detail, researchers say.

The $850 million SDO mission was the first launched under NASA's Living With a Star program, which aims to help researchers better understand aspects of the sun-Earth system that affect our lives and society.

SDO was designed to last a minimum of five years, but mission scientists hope it can keep observing for a while beyond that, providing an in-depth look at much of the sun's 11-year activity cycle. The space observatory launched during a relatively quiet period for the sun. The current cycle, known as Solar Cycle 24, is the weakest in a century or so, despite being in its active phase, researchers say.

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Mike Wall
Michael was a science writer for the Idaho National Laboratory and has been an intern at, The Salinas Californian newspaper, and the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory. He has also 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.