- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 20, 2006


A pair of spacecraft that NASA plans to launch Aug. 31 will take stereoscopic pictures of the sun to give the first-ever three-dimensional views of its massive, weather-disrupting eruptions.

The twin spacecraft, each the size of a small car, will join the Earth in its orbit, one moving ahead of the planet and one trailing, in the $478 million project.

By simultaneously measuring and recording solar flares and coronal mass ejections — huge eruptions that blast solar plasma into space — the two craft will give a “unique and revolutionary view” of the flow of energy between the sun and Earth.

It will also cut by half the time it takes, currently about 12 hours, to get warnings of geomagnetic storms headed toward the Earth that were produced by the eruptions, said Michael Kaiser, project scientist for NASA’s Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory, or STEREO.

Such storms can wreck satellites and cause power and telecommunications outages on Earth. They can also endanger astronauts on journeys beyond the Earth’s magnetic field.

“In terms of space-weather forecasting, we’re where weather forecasters were in the 1950s,” Mr. Kaiser said.

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