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: Rosetta Comet Landing in 'Thud' and 3D

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

NASA sun probe silent now for six weeks

Nov 12, 2014

No one knows exactly why a NASA solar probe stopped talking to Earth six weeks ago, but it's possible the spacecraft is out of power and is drifting without a way of calling for help, the agency said in an ...

NASA creating a virtual telescope with two small spacecraft

Oct 24, 2014

Although scientists have flown two spacecraft in formation, no one ever has aligned the spacecraft with a specific astronomical target and then held that configuration to make a scientific observation—creating, ...

Scientific instruments of Rosetta's Philae lander

Sep 23, 2014

When traveling to far off lands, one packs carefully. What you carry must be comprehensive but not so much that it is a burden. And once you arrive, you must be prepared to do something extraordinary to make ...

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

Iridium flares captured in real time by astrophotographer

6 hours ago

There are so many fun sights to see in the sky that are pure astronomical magic. And then there are the spectacular human-created sights. One of those sights is watching satellites from the Iridium constellation ...

Is Phobos doomed?

7 hours ago

"All these worlds are yours except Europa, attempt no landing there."

Espresso in space

9 hours ago

Espresso-loving astronauts, rejoice! You may soon be able to enjoy your beloved beverage in space, thanks to a new cup designed specifically to defy the low-gravity environments encountered aboard the International ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.