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Last Updated: Monday, 23 April 2007, 15:06 GMT 16:06 UK
Scientists unveil 3D Sun images
One of the images from Nasa's Stereo spacecraft, which is taking a detailed look at solar activity.

What are thought to be the first 3D images of the Sun have been made public by Aberystwyth university and Nasa, as part of a joint project.

Pictures beamed to Earth from the US space agency's Stereo orbiters have been converted into 3D by computer experts at both organisations.

The images, released on Monday, will be used to study solar explosions and their impact on Earth.

But special 3D glasses are needed to view the full effect.

Aberystwyth university's Dr Andy Breen, co-investigator on Stereo's Sun-Earth Connection Coronal and Heliospheric Investigation (Secchi), said the 3D images were the "biggest breakthrough" in space science in 10 years.

Pictures are being transmitted to Earth by Nasa's Solar TErrestrial RElations Observatory (Stereo) - two space craft observing either side of the Sun, working like a pair of eyes.

The research will look at how solar storms can affect satellites and even astronauts.

The craft are studying violent solar eruptions known as Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs), which hurl energetic particles at Earth that can disrupt power grids and satellite communications.

Information gathered from space will be used to gauge CMEs' impact on Earth, satellites and even astronauts.

"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," said Dr Breen.

A team of engineers at See3D, a company owned by the university, has developed software that makes it possible to view images from Stereo within 30 seconds of receiving the data from space.

The Stereo orbiters were launched in October last year.

One probe has been put just ahead of the Earth as it moves around the Sun; the other is stationed just behind.




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