By Alex DeMetrick

BALTIMORE (WJZ) — We all know staring into the sun can be dangerous, but a group of Maryland researchers has been doing just that for 20 years.

Alex DeMetrick reports they have seen in that time some remarkable solar events.

Launched in 1995, the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory–SOHO, for short–is 1 million miles from Earth, with a perfect view of the sun.

“The sun’s our closest star, so understanding the sun, it would actually help us understand many stars across the universe,” said Dr. Yari Collado-Vega, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.

And researchers at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland see what SOHO sees–detailed images of phenomena never glimpsed before–gigantic solar tornadoes and massive explosions, sending high-energy particles blasting into space.

Understanding that force has down-to-Earth importance.

“It can affect us as a society, and the technology that we use every day,” Collado-Vega said.

Those solar storms generate space weather that can disrupt electric grids and damage satellites. The source of that power is studied.

“So that we can both better predict it and then also better prepare for it when it happens,” said Dr. Alex Young, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.

Twenty years of science almost didn’t happen. Communication was lost with SOHO. It took NASA four months to reconnect with the spacecraft.

“If not, we wouldn’t have this 20 years of amazing data,” said Collado-Vega.

Like the 3,000 comets SOHO spotted swinging around the sun.

The SOHO spacecraft mission was originally planned to last two years, but at age 20, it’s still going strong.

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