NASA readies for 3D view of the sun

NASA readies for 3D view of the sun

By Stefanie Olsen


Story last modified Tue Dec 13 04:00:00 PST 2005

Studies of solar magnetic storms, the solar system’s most violent explosions, will soon come in “stereo.”

Two nearly identical robotic spacecraft known as Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatories (or STEREO) are in development and testing by NASA to capture high-definition 3D images of the sun and solar wind–the first-ever stereoscopic measurements of the sun’s explosions.

NASA expects to launch the two-year mission this spring after it completes testing of the crafts at Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland this winter.

The $520 million project is the next frontier for scientists observing the sun and coronal mass ejections (CMEs), powerful solar eruptions that can disrupt the protective magnetic field surrounding Earth, as well as the general environment in space. Related to solar flares (scientists still don’t know which come first), CMEs can pack a punch equivalent to a billion megaton nuclear bombs.