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Welsh boffins have beaten NASA to the punch and produced the first three dimensional images of the Sun from NASA's STEREO mission.

A team of engineers at See3D, a spinout company from the University of Wales, Aberystwyth, has developed software that processes the data from STEREO in real time - creating 3D pictures within 30 seconds of receiving the data from the space craft.

The Solar TErrestrial RElations Observatory mission, as it is more lengthily known, is a pair of virtually identical golf-cart sized satellites. The craft are designed to study solar activity, specifically solar flares and coronal mass ejections, the huge eruptions of solar material that can play havoc with Earth and space-based equipment.

Current observatories can study these eruptions and ejections, but can only do so in one dimension. STEREO will be better able to track material heading to Earth because it will have two views of any eruption or flare, which is how researchers have been able to gather the data for the three dimensional picture.

Dr Andy Breen, a co-investigator on the mission's SECCHI instrument (Sun Earth Connection Coronal and Heliospheric Investigation), said: "We've always known that we need to study the sun in three dimensions in order to understand the complex structures in the solar atmosphere. STEREO provides us with the first opportunity to do this. Understanding three dimensional data can be difficult - unless you see it in three dimensions."

The images were shown for the first time on Monday 23 April at the University's Institute of Mathematical and Physical Sciences. ®

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