Sun Cast in New Light by Satellites

Kevin P. Inscoe kevin at
Fri Mar 2 05:26:44 CST 2007

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"Sun Cast in New Light by Satellites
Irene Klotz, Discovery News

March 1, 2007 — Twin satellites taking three-dimensional images of the
sun have returned their first images, fulfilling scientists' hopes for a
tool that could significantly improve forecasts of potentially dangerous
space weather.

"Nobody ever died looking at an aurora, but some of the other
disturbances are getting to be a problem," said project scientist
Michael Kaiser with NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

Aurora, the shimmering lights that appear over Earth's polar regions,
are benign manifestations of high-energy particles streaming off the
sun's corona and hitting Earth's magnetic field.

When the eruptions are intense, the charged particles can wipe out
computer memory, short circuit power grids and interfere with
air-to-ground radio transmissions.

Before the two-part Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory, or STEREO,
was in orbit, scientists could make predictions about a solar storm's
intensity and direction only about 12 hours before it hit Earth.

Now scientists expect to be able to trace a storm's progress from the
moment it leaves the sun, said Naval Research Laboratory solar physicist
Russell Howard, a STEREO principal investigator.

Previous imagery did not show the front of a solar disturbance as it
traveled toward Earth, so we had to make estimates of when the storm
would arrive," he said. "With STEREO, we can track the front from the
sun all the way to Earth."

The images released Thursday were taken in December as the twin STEREO
probes settled into their working orbits, which include swings around
the moon.

By combining the views from the two satellites, scientists will be able
to piece together a three-dimensional picture of the sun, much as human
eyes, set slightly apart in the head, can render a stereographic view of
the world.

The satellites were launched Oct. 26 aboard a single unmanned booster.

Of particular interest to the STEREO team are violent solar storms known
as coronal mass ejections, which can blow up to 10 billion tons of the
sun's atmosphere into space. The particles blast away from the sun at
speeds of about 1 million mph.

Upon reaching Earth, the particles interact with Earth's magnetic field,
triggering storms that can damage or destroy satellites and shower
unprotected astronauts with radioactive particles.

The storms can also cut off radio communications aboard airplanes flying
polar routes."

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Kevin P. Inscoe                    Amateur Radio Call Sign: KE3VIN/AG
Deltona, FL 32738                                28.9497N by 81.1952W
kevin [at] inscoe [dot] org          
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