The Solar Dynamics Observatory, due for launch on February 9 at 10:30 Eastern time (15:30 GMT), is a revolution in solar observing: equipped with state-of-the art detectors, it'll stare at the Sun and teach us far more about our closest star than we've ever had a chance to before. It's like SOHO on steroids.
I was going to write up a lengthy post about it, but then I found out my friend Nicole Gravitationaliotta, aka The Noisy Astronomer, already put together a great post about it. That saves me time.
Something I want to point out: SDO will have a continuous science data streamrate of a whopping 16 megabytes per second. You might want to read that again. That's 1.4 terabytes per day, or half a petabyte per year. Given that a Blu-Ray disk holds 50 gigabytes at most, that means SDO would fill 28 disks a day just to store that data. Cripes. That's a vast amount of data to sift through. If the Sun is hiding anything, it has about a week to figure out what to do. After that we'll be watching everything it does.
Also, a fun thing about this for me is that the project scientist for SDO is Barbara Thompson, a woman I've known a long, long time: her office was across from mine when I was working on Hubble, and I would often drop by to swap stories with her and generally mix it up. It's very cool to know that an old friend will be helping run such a fantastic astronomical instrument.