These days we’ve all seen pictures of other worlds in stunning detail. We are familiar with pictures of the Moon and of the Earth and well know that the circles we see online and on paper are really globes, floating around in outer space. Now NASA’s STEREO mission to observe the Sun as it interacts with the Earth is giving us our first 3D images of real events. Anyone can knock up a computer generated model of the Sun or anything else but these are real images taken of the star we see in our skies everyday (well that’s an exaggeration, I suppose).
You’ll need to dig out a pair of standard 3D glasses to see the current slew of pictures and videos but they are well worth it. You can watch solar flares in 3D and see the Sun rotate. At present the videos are sadly not very high resolution, but the images are and look quite stunning, click on the ones below for larger versions. I hope that someone can reprocess these in different ways to enhance the 3D component as i’m sure there are clever things to be done.
The STEREO mission is made up of two identical spacecraft called STEREO-A and -B. The A (for After) craft trails behind the Earth in its orbit around the Sun, whilst the B(efore) craft goes ahead of us. The twin craft are loaded with scientific instruments for measuring the material ejected from the Sun and how it interacts with the Earth. This is the same material that causes the aurora here on Earth and which can damaged power grids and satellites or even kill astronauts.
As time goes by the two craft will move about, changing their angle of viewing of the Sun and Earth. This will enable better creation of 3D images amongst other things, but more importantly will give researchers a fuller view of the relationship between the Sun and Earth, which is now a very large field in astrophysics, as was demonstrated by the huge number and variety if talks on the subject at NAM.
STEREO has only just begun to take real observations in the past couple of weeks and new and exciting data and images are sure to start pouring onto the internet and into journals.