NASA has successfully launched the Solar Dynamics Observatory, a satellite that will take ultra-high-resolution pictures of the sun and help predict solar storms.
The probe was launched aboard an Altas V rocket from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida Thursday at 10:23 a.m. An attempt to launch the satellite Wednesday had to be scrubbed because of high winds.
Once in synchronous orbit over its ground station in New Mexico, the SDO will beam back pictures of the sun at an unprecedented resolution of 4,096 by 4,096 pixels, 10 times better resolution than HDTV.
The SDO will take one picture at eight different wavelengths every 10 seconds.
Other instruments on the satellite will measure the sun's brightness in the extreme ultraviolet light spectrum, map the sun's magnetic fields and observe sound waves passing over its surface to probe its inner workings.
The 290-kilogram satellite has no on-board storage and will beam down 1.5 terabytes of data — enough to fill about 60 Blu-ray discs — every day, more than any other NASA mission. Two 18-metre dishes at the New Mexico base will receive the transmissions.
With its solar panels extended, the SDO satellite is more than six metres wide and 4.5 metres long.
Its five-year mission is to investigate the sun's magnetic field and how it generates solar wind, solar flares and other phenomena, known as space weather.
"Our sun affects our lives more and more as we depend more and more on technology," said NASA project scientist William Dean Pesnell.
Space weather can affect communications, power grids, GPS satellites and other technological systems on Earth.
The $856-million US instrument is the first mission of NASA's Living With a Star program, which has a goal of studying how the behaviour of the sun affects life on Earth.