STEREO Mission Celebrates Five Incredible Years of Science

On October 25, 2006 a Delta II rocket launched from Cape Canaveral carrying two nearly identical spacecraft. Each satellite was one half of a mission entitled Solar TErrestrial RElations Observatory (STEREO) and they were destined to do something never done before – see the entire sun simultaneously.

The sun rotates, of course, so there’s no part of the sun we haven’t at some point observed from our vantage point on Earth. But watching this massive, highly active star from only a single line of sight has its limitations. For one, we never know what’s about to come over the horizon: a clear, relatively quiet surface or a cluster of active areas ready to send billions of tons of energy and radiation toward Earth? It’s also not easy to gauge the speed, size, or other characteristics of incoming solar activity when only viewing it head on.

“Over the last five years, each STEREO spacecraft has moved to a position in its orbit where it can capture side-view images of anything the sun sends our way, ” says Joe Gurman, STEREO’s project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. “That’s helped us come up with many new answers to old questions about solar activity.”

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