The sun, captured from all the angles

The 360-degree view will enable early detection of potentially damaging solar storms

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SOLAR PANORAMA This solar portrait captures the far side of the sun, hidden from Earth’s view, as seen by NASA’s twin STEREO spacecraft. Now that the craft have begun an 8-year exploration of the sun’s far side, scientists for the first time have obtained 360-degree panoramas of the sun, as shown in an accompanying video. The dark crack is a narrow region where data still needs to be gathered. STEREO team/NASA

When it comes to solar storms, there’s no longer any place to hide. For the first time, solar scientists have obtained simultaneous views of the entire sun, both the front and back sides.

The unprecedented 360-degree panorama, released by NASA on February 6, combines sharp images of the sun’s front side recorded by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory with those from NASA’s twin STEREO spacecraft, which have just begun an 8-year exploration of the rotating sun’s far side. Images of the far side, recorded up to 14 days before they rotate into view from Earth, will enable scientists to better predict solar storms that can damage satellites and disrupt communications and power systems on Earth.

The images can also capture eruptions on the back side so short-lived that they disappear before that region of the sun rotates into view, says STEREO scientist Joseph Gurman of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. In January, he notes, a solar eruption recorded by STEREO was detected by the MESSENGER spacecraft as a change in the nearby magnetic field. MESSENGER, which is about to enter orbit around Mercury, was not harmed by the event.

The new STEREO images resolve features on the sun about 2,400 kilometers across.

A NASA video shows a 360-degree panorama of the sun and zooms in on storm activity in a magnetically active region.

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