Remember the recent launch of the STEREO spacecraft? These are two identical solar observing spacecraft which will give astronomers a thrilling 3-D view of the Sun. Officially, they’re the Solar TerrEstrial RElations Observatories (STEREO… get it?), and they were lofted into orbit on October 25.
After a separation maneuver using the Moon’s gravity, the two spacecraft are in the process of repositioning themselves into their final science orbits. Once spacecraft will lead the Earth in its orbit around the Sun, while the other will trail behind. With two different vantage points of the Sun, the spacecraft will give us that 3-D view of the Sun’s surface that should put everything in perspective. They should be in the final position by April 2007.
But NASA is already getting the spacecraft to take pictures. The photo you see with this story is a close up view of loops on the solar surface in a magnetically active region. STEREO observed this region on December 4th while a sunspot group was active. The long term goal is to see flares and coronal mass ejections in 3-D. With this perspective, astronomers should be able to tell if an ejection is headed towards Earth, and could disrupt communications on the planet.
Original Source: NASA News Release