by Staff Writers
Greenbelt MD (SPX) Oct 31, 2016
In the same way that two eyes give humans a three-dimensional perception of the world around us, the twin spacecraft of NASA's Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory mission, or STEREO, enable us to understand the sun in 3-D. Thanks to this mission, which launched on Oct. 25, 2006, we can see and study the sun from multiple viewpoints - crucial for understanding solar activity and the evolution of space weather.
One of STEREO's key instruments is called a coronagraph, which is used to study the corona, the sun's outer atmosphere. Each of STEREO's coronagraphs has a metal disk called an occulting disk.
The occulting disk blocks the sun's bright light and makes it possible to discern the detailed features of the surrounding corona, which is about one million times dimmer than the sun. Much like the way the bright headlights of a semi-truck at night hide just how big the truck is, the brightly shining sun makes it difficult to study the much fainter corona.
In celebration of the mission's 10th anniversary, here is a guide to reading a STEREO image. Watch the video below, created with imagery of a massive July 2012 coronal mass ejection, to learn the key features of STEREO coronagraph data.
Space, in color
The sun, in extreme ultraviolet light
Later, these images are colorized. These extreme ultraviolet light images are sometimes imposed over the occulting disk to help give a sense of the sun's size and position, and to provide more information as to which direction a solar eruption is headed.
Extreme ultraviolet light images highlight active regions on the sun - regions where intense magnetic activity can give rise to solar eruptions. Here, STEREO observed the CME bursting forth from this active region.
Coronal mass ejections
High-energy particle snow
The immediacy and intensity of this "snowstorm" in space following the CME reflects just how fast and strong the eruption is: Less than an hour after the start of this eruption, accelerated particles traversed approximately 93 million miles from the sun to STEREO.
by Lina Tran for GSFC News
Solar Science News at SpaceDaily
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