This is the Atmospheric Imaging Assembly. Together with the Helioseismic and Magnetic Imager, and the Extreme Ultraviolet Variability Experiment, it will capture the Sun at IMAX resolution every 10 seconds. They will travel together inside NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory spacecraft.
After its February 2010 launch on top of an Atlas V rocket, the SDO will capture images at almost four times the resolution of an HD TV, transmitting the results back to Earth at 130 megabits per second. Basically, this thing will be transmitting the equivalent of 500,000 MP3 per day, seven days a week. According to Dean Pesnell at the Goddard Space Flight centre in Greenbelt, Maryland, the potential for new discoveries is giganormous:
We'll be getting IMAX-quality images every 10 seconds. We'll see every nuance of solar activity.
Pesnell said that this speed opens an incredible potential for discovery, using 18th-century photographer Eadweard Muybridge as an example:
But when Muybridge photographed horses using a new high-speed camera system, he discovered something surprising. Galloping horses spend part of the race completely airborne-all four feet are off the ground.
To achieve all this, the three instruments in the SDO have been designed to cover three vital aspects of our home star. First, the Atmospheric Imaging Assembly - which will be producing most of the data - that you see at the opening of this post uses four telescopes together. They will be the ones photographing Sol's surface and atmosphere using 10 different wavelength filters. Meanwhile, the HMI will analyse the innards of the star, looking into the physics that govern it inside. Then, EVE will measure extreme ultraviolet light activity while getting a nice and toasty tan.
How would this data be received? Using two 18-metre antennas near Las Cruces, New Mexico, which will be linked constantly to the SDO thanks to its geosynchronous orbit. Until it gets destroyed by the mysterious flying spaceship.