The weather outside may be frightful at this time of year, but out in space, it's pretty delightful. That's because the Sun is quiet, and it's been that way for a while. It's starting to get a little more active, though, which could stir up the space weather over the next few years.
NASA plans to keep an eye on the space weather with a new satellite: SDO, the Solar Dynamics Observatory. It's designed to help scientists understand more about how the Sun affects conditions here on Earth.
SDO will pay special attention to the Sun's magnetic field -- the motions of hot gas that generate the field, how the field extends into space, and how it interacts with Earth's magnetic field.
That interaction is known as space weather. And like the weather here on Earth, it can get stormy.
When the Sun nears the peak of its 11-year magnetic cycle, it bombards us with electrically charged particles. They can fry satellites and power grids, knock out communications, and cause many other problems. And because our society relies on electronics for communications, business transactions, and much more, disruptions can cost billions of dollars -- and can even threaten lives.
The Sun has been at the low point of its magnetic cycle for several years, so the space weather has been calm. Scientists expect the cycle to peak in 2013, though, so the weather is already starting to get more active -- just in time for SDO to keep an eye on things.
Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2009