STEREO Launches Hi-Def Solar Imagers

Oct 26, 2006
STEREO Launches Hi-Def Solar Imagers
The Banana River reflects the brilliant launch of the Delta II carrying the STEREO spacecraft. Image credit: NASA

NASA's twin Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatories mission, known as STEREO, successfully launched Wednesday at 8:52 p.m. EDT from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla.

STEREO's nearly identical twin, golf cart-sized spacecraft will make observations to help researchers construct the first-ever three-dimensional views of the sun. The images will show the star's stormy environment and its effects on the inner solar system, vital data for understanding how the sun creates space weather.

"The stunning solar views the two observatories will send back to Earth will help scientists get a better understanding of the sun and its activity than we've ever been able to obtain from the ground or any of our other missions," said Nick Chrissotimos, STEREO project manager at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.

The two observatories were launched on a Delta II rocket in a stacked configuration and separated from the launch vehicle approximately 25 minutes after lift-off. After receiving the first signal from the spacecraft approximately 63 minutes after launch, mission control personnel at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL), Laurel, Md., confirmed each observatory's solar arrays successfully deployed and were providing power. NASA's Deep Space Network antennas in Canberra, Australia received the initial radio signals.

During the next two weeks, mission managers at APL will ensure all systems are properly working. For the next three months, the observatories will fly from a point close to Earth to one that extends just beyond the moon's orbit.

After about two months, STEREO's orbits will be synchronized to encounter the moon. The "A" observatory will use the moon's gravity to redirect it to an orbit "ahead" of Earth. The "B" observatory will encounter the moon again for a second swing-by about one month later to redirect its position "behind" Earth. STEREO is the first NASA mission to use separate lunar swing-bys to place two observatories into vastly different orbits around the sun.

Just as the slight offset between human eyes provides depth perception, this placement will allow the STEREO observatories to obtain 3-D images of the sun. The arrangement also allows the two spacecraft to take local particle and magnetic field measurements of the solar wind as it flows by.

During the observatories' two-year mission, they will explore the origin, evolution and interplanetary consequences of coronal mass ejections, some of the most violent explosions in our solar system. These billion-ton eruptions can produce spectacular aurora, disrupt satellites, radio communications and Earth's power systems. Energetic particles associated with these solar eruptions permeate the entire solar system and can be hazardous to spacecraft and astronauts.

Better prediction of solar eruptions provides more warning time for satellite and power grid operators to put their assets into a safe mode to weather the storm. A better understanding of the nature of these events will help engineers build better and more resilient systems.

"We're becoming more and more reliant on space technologies in our everyday lives and are hatching ambitious plans to explore our outer space surroundings," said Michael Kaiser, STEREO Project Scientist at Goddard. "But nature has a mind of its own and STEREO is going to help us figure out how to avoid those surprises the sun tends to throw at us and our best-laid plans."

Source: NASA

Explore further: Mysteries of space dust revealed

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Puffing Sun gives birth to reluctant eruption

Jun 23, 2014

(Phys.org) —A suite of Sun-gazing spacecraft, SOHO, STEREO and Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), have spotted an unusual series of eruptions in which a series of fast 'puffs' force the slow ejection of ...

Big solar blowouts hold clue to space weather

Jun 23, 2014

(Phys.org) —Solar jets are ejections from the surface of the Sun, where 1-10 tonnes of hot material are expelled at speeds of up to 1000 kilometres per second. Using space based observatories like Hinode ...

NASA sees three coronal mass ejections in two days

Apr 22, 2013

On April 20, 2013, at 2:54 a.m. EDT, the sun erupted with a coronal mass ejection (CME), a solar phenomenon that can send billions of tons of solar particles into space that can affect electronic systems ...

Recommended for you

Mysteries of space dust revealed

10 hours ago

The first analysis of space dust collected by a special collector onboard NASA's Stardust mission and sent back to Earth for study in 2006 suggests the tiny specks open a door to studying the origins of the ...

A guide to the 2014 Neptune opposition season

15 hours ago

Never seen Neptune? Now is a good time to try, as the outermost ice giant world reaches opposition this weekend at 14:00 Universal Time (UT) or 10:00 AM EDT on Friday, August 29th. This means that the distant ...

Informing NASA's Asteroid Initiative: A citizen forum

Aug 28, 2014

In its history, the Earth has been repeatedly struck by asteroids, large chunks of rock from space that can cause considerable damage in a collision. Can we—or should we—try to protect Earth from potentially ...

Image: Rosetta's comet looms

Aug 28, 2014

Wow! Rosetta is getting ever-closer to its target comet by the day. This navigation camera shot from Aug. 23 shows that the spacecraft is so close to Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko that it's difficult to ...

User comments : 0