Feeds

NASA: checking out the sun in Stereo

New solar observatory ready for August launch

5 things you didn’t know about cloud backup

Next month, NASA is to launch a new solar observatory that will make it possible for scientists to observe the sun in three dimensions for the first time. This should lead to better forecasting of space weather and a clearer understanding of the processes at work in our local star.

The Stereo mission (Solar TErrestrial RElations Observatory) is composed of two near-identical space craft with a battery of detectors on each. They will record data in Ultra Violet, and will also use a coronagraph, which creates an artificial eclipse, to study the outer atmosphere of the sun.

They will both be launched into solar orbits, but set in different directions so they gradually drift further and further apart, sending back data on solar activity from two angles at once.

Currently, even using the SOHO observatory we can only really see the sun from the Earth's point of view, which gives scientists a pretty one dimensional picture of our star. It gives us great images of material being ejected from the solar limb (the side of the sun) but it is still impossible to tell whether or not ejections are heading towards or away from the Earth until the material hits SOHO itself. This gives us just an hour's notice.

Stereo will allow scientists to make observations of the sun from side on, so they can better track material from coronal mass ejections (CMEs) as it is flung into space.

The progress of the CMEs will be monitored by a groundbreaking new device called a Heliospheric Imager, built at Birmingham University in the UK. It tracks the material using only the sunlight reflected from the plasma particles. This light is so much fainter than the solar glare that the detector has specially designed "baffles" that reject the stray light and allow it to pick out the solar storms.

The observatories should give us more warning when this solar material is heading our way: up to two and a half days. This is good news for satellite owners, power companies and mobile phone operators, as big CMEs can disrupt all of these, as well as forming the Auroras Borealis and Australis.

To coordinate the cameras over the roughly 500,000km separation, mission scientists will have to take the speed of light into account. This means that the two craft will take their snapshots at different times, in order to record the same event.

The mission is nominally expected to last for two and a half years, but could go for as long as four years. At this point, the two craft will be on opposite sides of the sun from each other and Earth will only be able to receive data from one of the satellites at that point. The distances involved also mean data will take longer and longer to get through as the mission progresses.

The craft was originally scheduled to launch on 1 August. However, a series of small problems meant that the date was becoming unrealistic. Last week, a problem with a crane meant that loading the rocket took longer than expected. Then, this week, engineers spotted a small leak in the rocket's fuel tank.

"It isn't anything serious, and has probably already been fixed," a spokeswoman told us. "But it meant things would have been rushed, so they moved things to the next launch window."

Barring any further "small problems", the rocket will now lift off sometime between 20 August 20 and 6 September. ®

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

More from The Register

next story
Boffins attempt to prove the UNIVERSE IS JUST A HOLOGRAM
Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?
Our LOHAN spaceplane ballocket Kickstarter climbs through £8000
Through 25 per cent but more is needed: Get your UNIQUE rewards!
Software bug caught Galileo sats in landslide, no escape from reality
Life had just begun, code error means Russia's gone and thrown it all away
LOHAN tunes into ultra long range radio
And verily, Vultures shall speak status unto distant receivers
NASA to reformat Opportunity rover's memory from 125 million miles away
Interplanetary admins will back up data and get to work
SpaceX prototype rocket EXPLODES over Texas. 'Tricky' biz, says Elon Musk
No injuries or near injuries. Flight stayed in designated area
Galileo, Galileo! Galileo, Galileo! Galileo fit to go. Magnifico
I'm just a poor boy, nobody loves me. But at least I can find my way with ESA GPS by 2017
prev story

Whitepapers

Gartner critical capabilities for enterprise endpoint backup
Learn why inSync received the highest overall rating from Druva and is the top choice for the mobile workforce.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Rethinking backup and recovery in the modern data center
Combining intelligence, operational analytics, and automation to enable efficient, data-driven IT organizations using the HP ABR approach.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
Next gen security for virtualised datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.