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RAS PN 07/11 (NAM07): STEREO GIVES ASTRONOMERS FIRST LOOK AT THE SPACE BETWEEN THE EARTH AND THE SUN

Last Updated on Wednesday, 07 April 2010 18:29
Published on Tuesday, 17 April 2007 00:00
For the first time, an international team of astronomers have a side-on view as giant clouds of solar material leave the Sun and slam into the magnetic field of the Earth. On Tuesday 17 and Wednesday 18 April at the RAS National Astronomy Meeting in Preston, Professor Richard Harrison and Dr Chris Davis of the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory will present spectacular images and movies of these dramatic events taken by UK cameras mounted on the two STEREO spacecraft.

ROYAL ASTRONOMICAL SOCIETY PRESS INFORMATION NOTE:

EMBARGOED FOR 00:01 BST, TUESDAY, 17 APRIL 2007

Ref.: PN 07/11 (NAM 07)
 
Issued by RAS Press Officers:
Robert Massey
Tel: +44 (0)20 7734 4582
Mobile: +44 (0)794 124 8035
E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

AND

Anita Heward
Tel: +44 (0)1483 420 904
Mobile: +44 (0)7756 034 243
E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
 
NATIONAL ASTRONOMY MEETING PRESS ROOM (16 - 20 APRIL ONLY):
Tel: +44 (0)1772 892 613
                           892 475
                           892 477


RAS National Astronomy Meeting web site: http://nam2007.uclan.ac.uk


CONTACT DETAILS ARE LISTED AT THE END OF THIS RELEASE.


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STEREO GIVES ASTRONOMERS A FIRST LOOK AT THE SPACE BETWEEN THE EARTH AND SUN


For the first time, an international team of astronomers have a side-on view as giant clouds of solar material leave the Sun and slam into the magnetic field of the Earth. On Tuesday 17 and Wednesday 18 April at the RAS National Astronomy Meeting in Preston, Professor Richard Harrison and Dr Chris Davis of the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory will present spectacular images and movies of these dramatic events taken by UK cameras mounted on the two STEREO spacecraft.


The two spacecraft that make up the NASA STEREO mission were launched last October. One probe is now travelling in an orbit ahead of the Earth while the other lags behind. Together the probes are imaging the Sun in 3D. They also have a unique perspective - they can view the space between the Sun and the Earth (the so-called Earth-Sun line), giving scientists their first views of this region of space.


The Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (RAL) in Oxfordshire and the University of Birmingham led an international effort to develop two identical Heliospheric Imager (HI) instruments. One HI is mounted on each of the two spacecraft so astronomers can watch the Earth-Sun line. In particular, this view gives scientists a ringside seat when giant clouds of material (Coronal Mass Ejections or CMEs) travel from the Sun to the Earth.


CMEs can be made up of more than 1000 million tonnes of charged particles and travel at up to 1000 km per second. When a CME reaches the Earth it can have dramatic effects; compressing the terrestrial magnetic field, generating displays of the northern lights, disrupting radio communications, overloading power grids and damaging satellites.

The ability to track CMEs as they leave the Sun, to understand how they propagate and evolve and to predict their arrival at Earth are all goals of the unique HI system. As the STEREO spacecraft move into their orbits over the coming months we will see increasingly better views of the 3D Sun and the passage of Earth-directed clouds in space. However, the UK HI instruments have now made their first observations of CMEs in the inner solar system, showing spectacular images of these clouds and demonstrating that the instruments are operating flawlessly.
 
CONTACT INFORMATION:
 
Professor Richard Harrison, Rutherford Appleton Laboratory
HI/STEREO Principal Investigator
Tel: +44 (0)1235 446884
Mob: +44 (0)7876 582 776
E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


Dr Chris Davis, Rutherford Appleton Laboratory
HI/STEREO Project Scientist
Tel: +44 (0)1235 446710
E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


From 16-20 April, the STEREO team can be contacted via the RAS press office (details above).


NOTES FOR EDITORS


The 2007 RAS National Astronomy Meeting is hosted by the University of Central Lancashire. It is sponsored by the Royal Astronomical Society and the UK Science and Technology Facilities Council.


This year the NAM is being held together with the UK Solar Physics (UKSP) and Magnetosphere, Ionosphere and Solar-Terrestrial (MIST) spring meetings. 2007 is International Heliophysical Year.


STEREO is a NASA-led mission, with major contributions from European countries including the UK.


IMAGES AND MOVIES:


Further information can be found at www.stereo.rl.ac.uk


The HI images will be posted on the RAS NAM website at www.nam2007.uclan.ac.uk/press.php and also on the RAL STEREO site at

www.stereo.rl.ac.uk/STEREO_Gallery.html


Image caption: A solar mass ejection viewed in the inner solar system from one of the UK HI instruments on STEREO. The Sun is off the right hand side and the Earth is off the left hand side of the image. We see a background of stars as well as the two inner planets (the brightest objects in the frame) Venus (left) and Mercury (right). The cloud of solar material can be seen entering the frame from the right, setting off on its journey from the Sun to the Earth.
 
More images and animations of Coronal Mass Ejections can be found at: http://solar.bnsc.rl.ac.uk

Images of and from the STEREO spacecraft can be found at: http://stereo.gsfc.nasa.gov/