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Gusty winds delays NASA launch of solar observatory

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Artist's concept of the Solar Dynamics Observatory. NASA Photo

CAPE CANAVERAL (AFP): NASA delayed the launch of its Solar Dynamics Observatory for at least 24 hours because of high winds at the Kennedy Space Centre launch site here.

Computers automatically halted the countdown at least five minutes before the blast off of the observatory's Atlas V rocket on Wednesday.

A new attempt will be made tomorrow at 1523 GMT, when a one hour launch window opens, NASA said. If that fails, it can try again Friday but beyond that the space agency will have to completely reschedule the flight.

The observatory is poised for a five-year mission that scientists hope will help unravel the mysteries of how the sun's magnetic field affects the rest of our solar system.

US scientists, who have targeted the sun as the next frontier for space research, said they hope the probe will be especially helpful in revealing how changes in the sun alter the levels of radiation and energy within our solar system.

Those changes, which scientists call space weather, can affect communications and satellite signals, electrical power lines, and other objects and energy transmissions in our atmosphere and beyond.

NASA said that there was a 40 per cent chance that cloudy and windy conditions, as well as threatening showers, could cause a delay in liftoff of the observatory.

Telescopes and other gear on board the probe will scrutinise sunspots and solar flares using more pixels and colours than any other observatory in the history of solar physics.

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