(by Clara Moskowitz, FoxNews.com) – NASA…released the first 360-degree view of the entire sun [on Sunday]… (photo on right – this view shows the latest image of the far side of the Sun, taken on Feb. 2, 2011.) The photo comes courtesy of NASA’s twin STEREO (Solar TErrestrial RElations Observatory) spacecraft, which aligned exactly opposite each other around the sun to capture the image.
The ability to see the whole sun, front to back, will allow scientists to better understand complicated solar weather patterns and plan for future robotic or crewed spacecraft missions throughout the solar system, researchers said.
“The sun is a truly complex object which influences many aspects of our lives,” Richard Harrison, principal investigator for the U.K. instruments on STEREO, said in a statement. “In the same way that you would not expect to understand the workings of the brain by studying just a small part of it, a global investigation into the nature of our star as a complete object is essential to understanding how it works.”
Harrison is also co-investigator of NASA’s SDO mission (Solar Dynamics Observatory), which contributed to the new 360-degree view with high-resolution sun photos taken from orbit.
Scientists particularly want to better predict space weather and the violent eruptions that can spout from the sun’s surface. These eruptions can damage satellites, disrupt communications and disable power systems on Earth.
“Solar missions such as STEREO and SDO not only give us more information about star formation … throughout our universe, but are of vital importance in our quest to further understand the sun’s processes and the effect they can have on our planet and way of life,” said David Parker, director of space science and exploration for the U.K. Space Agency. “This spectacular 360-degree view is another triumph for the STEREO mission, which continues to obtain some of the best images yet of the sun.”
The two identical spacecraft of the NASA STEREO mission were launched in October 2006. They are offset from one another, one flying ahead of the Earth and the other behind.
SDO is the first mission in NASA’s Living with a Star program and was launched in February 2010. SDO’s unique orbit allows high-resolution images of the sun to be recorded every three-quarters of a second.
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1. How was NASA able to take a 360-degree photo of the sun?
2. What will a complete picture of the sun enable scientists to do, according to Richard Harrison of NASA’s SDO mission?
3. Why do scientists want to better predict space weather and the violent eruptions that can spout from the sun’s surface?
4. Why are solar missions like STEREO and SDO important?
5. Visit the SDO, STEREO and Living with a Star websites under “Resources” below the questions. Which aspect of these programs is most interesting to you? Explain your answer.
Living with a Star Program:
- Living With a Star (LWS) is a NASA scientific program to study those aspects of the connected Sun-Earth system that directly affect life and society.
- LWS is a crosscutting initiative with goals and objectives relevant to NASA’s Exploration Initiative, as well as to NASA’s Strategic Enterprises.
- LWS is composed of three major components: Scientific investigations on spaceflight platforms study different regions of the Sun, interplanetary space, and geospace; an applied science program Space Environment Testbeds where protocols and components are tested; and a Targeted Research and Technology Program.
The Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO):
- SDO is a NASA mission which will observe the Sun for over five years.
- Launched on February 11, 2010, the observatory is part of the Living With a Star (LWS) program.
- The goal of the LWS program is to develop the scientific understanding necessary to effectively address those aspects of the connected Sun-Earth system that directly affect life and society.
- SDO’s goal is to understand the Sun’s influence on Earth and near-Earth space by studying the solar atmosphere on small scales of space and time and in many wavelengths simultaneously.
- SDO will investigate how the Sun’s magnetic field is generated and structured, how this stored magnetic energy is converted and released into the heliosphere and geospace in the form of solar wind, energetic particles, and variations in the solar irradiance. (from wikipedia)
- STEREO (Solar TErrestrial RElations Observatory) is a solar observation mission.
- Two nearly identical spacecraft were launched into orbits that cause them to respectively pull further ahead of and fall gradually behind the Earth.
- This will enable stereoscopic imaging of the Sun and solar phenomena. (from wikipedia)
Visit the Solar Dynamics Observatory website at sdo.gsfc.nasa.gov.
Visit the Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory (STEREO) website at stereo.gsfc.nasa.gov.
Visit the Living with a Star program website at lws.gsfc.nasa.gov.
Visit NASA’s SDO youtube page at youtube.com/user/LittleSDOHMI.
Watch a news video of the NASA sun photos below:
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