Skip to Content

The Sun in 3-D

The first 3-D images of the sun are helping researchers better understand its violent storms, which can disrupt satellites.

On Monday, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory released the first 3-D images of the sun from a pair of spacecraft called Stereo. The spacecraft, which were launched last October, are helping astronomers study and predict gigantic eruptions from the sun. (See “Better Predictions of Space Weather.”) Currently, the nature and causes of these explosions of high-energy particles and magnetic storms are poorly understood. And being able to predict them farther in advance will help prevent damage to satellites orbiting the earth.

Sun salutation: The first 3-D pictures of the sun reveal the contours of the star’s active sites in unprecedented detail. The picture at top is two-dimensional.

In the past, astronomers have been able to look at these solar storms, called coronal mass ejections, only from the earth. This made it impossible to predict the storms in advance. But by sending up the pair of spacecraft, one orbiting the sun in front of the earth and the other behind, researchers have gained a far better view of the solar storms and will be able to predict them sooner.

Multimedia

  • View a slideshow of Stereo images.

  • View a video of the sun at different wavelengths.

  • View a 3-D clip of active sights on the sun.

The spacecraft, which carry multiple instruments, including 3-D imagers and particle and magnetic-field detectors, have not yet helped predict any storms because the sun has been relatively calm. But that could soon change: the number of coronal mass ejections is expected to peak within the next few years.

Keep Reading

Most Popular

Here’s how a Twitter engineer says it will break in the coming weeks

One insider says the company’s current staffing isn’t able to sustain the platform.

Technology that lets us “speak” to our dead relatives has arrived. Are we ready?

Digital clones of the people we love could forever change how we grieve.

How to befriend a crow

I watched a bunch of crows on TikTok and now I'm trying to connect with some local birds.

Starlink signals can be reverse-engineered to work like GPS—whether SpaceX likes it or not

Elon said no thanks to using his mega-constellation for navigation. Researchers went ahead anyway.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.