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3D sun images provide early warning of hazardous space weather

3D sun images: With its twin STEREO space probes, NASA can now see the sun in 3D, offering increased protection against solar storms.

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3D sun image: This artist's illustration of shows NASA's twin STEREO observatories. For the first time, the space probes are sending back images of the entire sun's surface.


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NASA has been waiting for this moment since October 2006.

That was when the space agency launched its two STEREO (Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory) spacecraft. Now, after a series of complex maneuvers, the two probes are aligned on either side of the sun, offering a 360-degree view of our star.

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NASA's 3D sun images are more than just eye candy. Being able to see the far side of the sun offers early warning of solar flares that can toast satellites and disrupt radio commuications.

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"With data like these, we can fly around the sun to see what's happening over the horizon – without ever leaving our desks," said STEREO program scientist Lika Guhathakurta in a press release. "I expect great advances in theoretical solar physics and space weather forecasting."

"Farside active regions can no longer take us by surprise," said Bill Murtagh, a senior forecaster at NOAA's Space Weather Prediction Center in Boulder, Colorado. "Thanks to STEREO, we know they're coming."

The agency says that it plans to release movies with even higher resolution in the coming months.

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