SDO Soars and Roars to Space!

Animation of SDO launch. Images: Nancy Atkinson

Two rocket launches in one week! It doesn’t get any better than this! The launch of the Atlas V rocket with the Solar Dynamics Observatory on Feb. 11 was incredible! (Have I used that word before here?!) Above is an animation of the images I took of the launch, and below is a video taken by another journalist that was near where I was at the Kennedy Space Center press site. The Atlas launch was not as loud and engulfing as the shuttle launch, but still it is breathtaking. Where the shuttle guns it off the pad, Atlas rises slowly and gradually picks up velocity.

What I felt most privileged about was that I was standing about 100 ft. from the SDO scientist, so could witness their excitement at seeing what was likely years of their work heading off to space. And then, I walked back to the press building alongside them, and got their initial reactions. Since I was one of the few journalists there (seemingly there were more photographers than writers) and there was no official press conference after the launch, I got quotes from them that no one else has in their articles! (w00t for exclusivity!)

There was this awesome moment during the launch, and I describe it in my Universe Today article where the rocket was soaring up into the sky and there was a sundog, or rainbow-like effect on the clouds. Then when the rocket experiences the maximum dynamic pressure in its atmospheric flight (Max-Q) it gave off a shock wave which was visible to us on the ground, and it dissipated the sundog! The best video which shows exactly what we saw is posted on, and was taken by a 13-year-old girl at the launch. (follow that link — I highly recommend it!) There’s another video that I’ve put in below that shows a different look (the sundog isn’t visible, but the shockwave is –and they replay it) and includes a shadow from the rocket that I didn’t see from the ground.

So, first video:

Second video:

SDO is going to is going be sending back hi-res video of the sun at a constant stream. The amount of data it will provide (equivalent to half a million song downloads every day!) will revolutionize our understanding of the Sun, how it affects us here on Earth, and how scientists might be able to predict solar storms.


February 15, 2010 at 8:11 am


I told you that my gambling against the launch happening after the first scrub, by leaving town, would ensure that it goes perfectly. I was right. Great series of launch photos. I wish I would’ve stuck around one more day, but then I wouldn’t have had that great night in New Orelans.

Thanks for sharing.

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