Surveillance of the Sun

Star observation in Sinai

A prominence erupting viewed by STEREO

Just as the Sun and Earth were created together in the same vortex, so will they vanish together in the same apocalypse. The destinies of the Sun and Earth are bound together. And that’s why it’s time to get to know our partner better. And that’s why NASA has sent up two missions to study it, STEREO and the SDO.

The STEREO mission has two spacecraft orbiting the Sun. On the 6th February, 2011, they entered positions 180° C apart which allows the entire surface of the Sun to be viewed at the same time. Stunning stereoscopic images have been relayed back to the Earth that can be viewed on the STEREO website http://stereo.gsfc.nasa.gov, not only spinning images of the entire solar surface but also dynamic film of solar storms, one of which sparked widespread aurora on the Earth shortly afterwards.

Solar storms release a blast of high energy particles that can disrupt spacecraft electronics, communication systems and terrestrial power supplies. In 1987, a solar storm caused a blackout in Quebec, Canada, which left 4 million people without power. Any astronauts on a spacewalk would have been killed immediately. With continual surveillance now in place, we should be in a better position to prepare for such devastating blasts in the future.

While STEREO is keeping us alert to any menaces from the Sun’s surface, SDO, the Solar Dynamics Observatory, is analyzing and modeling the causes of these solar storms. The Helioseismic and Magnetic Imager will track the evolution of the tangled magnetic fields that trap the solar plasma and release it in explosive flares. The Atmosphere Imaging Assembly will image the solar corona where enormous amounts of energy are stored and released in coronal mass eruptions.

I bet you feel safer now!

This blog first appeared in the Cairo BCA magazine for May 2011 to promote star gazing in Sinai with an 8″ Meade telescope

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