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Christa McAuliffe Planetarium to Provide Viewing of First High Definition 3-D Images of the Sun
Contact: Stephen Knipstein
Christa McAuliffe Planetarium

David Sims
Science Writer
Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans, and Space
(603) 862-5369

April 20, 2007

DURHAM, N.H.-- The Christa McAuliffe Planetarium, in cooperation with NASA and with participation from mission scientists at the University of New Hampshire, will provide New Hampshire residents with their first opportunity to see high definition, three-dimensional images of the Sun. NASA is making the first images available at 11 AM, on Monday, April 23rd, and the Planetarium will host a 3-D viewing event.

The images will be shown on the Planetarium's, high definition, plasma screen and visitors will be given 3-D glasses, postcards, and posters. Also in the exhibit hall at 11 AM, Planetarium visitors will be able to watch the live NASA press conference unveiling the images.

NASA's twin STEREO (Solar TErrestrial RElations Observatory) spacecraft give scientists their first images of the Sun in three dimensions. The new view will improve space weather forecasting and greatly aid scientists' ability to understand solar physics.

Research associate professor Antoinette "Toni" Galvin of the UNH Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans, and Space (EOS) and the Department of Physics is chief scientist for the UNH-built instrument.

"The STEREO mission is providing remarkable images and measurements that will help us understand the connection between eruptive events on the Sun and subsequent space weather at Earth," Galvin says.

Previous Sun imager missions provided only flat, two-dimensional views of coronal mass ejections or CMEs exploding from the Sun, and sampled only over a narrow "pie slice" of particles limited by the small angle of separation between spacecraft orbiting near the Earth.

Says Galvin, "The STEREO mission, with a full complement of both remote imagers and instruments making measurements of the solar wind itself, and with the two observatories drifting apart from the Earth and from each other, is providing us a new global perspective. It is a very exciting time not only for space physicists, but also for the general public. Space weather is everybody's business."

Participating in Monday's event will be two of the mission's co-investigators from the UNH Space Science Center. Research scientist Mark Popecki and research associate professor Charles Farrugia will be on hand to discuss the mission, the SSC role, and to answer questions.

Popecki is an expert on STEREO Mission operations and data for the Plasma and Suprathermal Ion Composition (PLASTIC) instrument on board the STEREO spacecraft. Designed and built at EOS, the complex instrument samples the solar wind and suprathermal particles as they stream away from the Sun at a speed of millions of miles per hour. Farrugia is an expert on interplanetary coronal mass ejections or ICMEs, which are what the coronal mass ejections become once they leave the Sun, and has also studied how ICMEs interact with earth's magnetic field to create "space weather."

STEREO is the third mission in NASA's Solar Terrestrial Probes program. This two-year mission will provide a unique and revolutionary view of the Sun-Earth System. The two nearly identical observatories - one ahead of Earth in its orbit, the other trailing behind - will trace the flow of energy and matter from the Sun to Earth as well as reveal the 3-D structure of CMEs and help us understand why they happen.

The STEREO spacecraft were launched on October 25, 2006, and on January 21 completed a series of complex maneuvers, including flying by the moon, to position the spacecraft in their mission orbits. The two observatories are orbiting the sun and will further separate from each other by approximately 45 degrees per year. Just as the slight offset between your eyes provides you with depth perception, this separation of the spacecraft allows them to take 3-D images and particle measurements of the sun.

Located in Concord, NH, the Christa McAuliffe Planetarium is New Hampshire's official memorial to Christa McAuliffe. Since its opening in 1990, the Planetarium has been fulfilling its mission to educate, excite and entertain learners of all ages in the sciences and humanities by actively engaging them in the exploration of astronomy and space science. For more information, contact the Planetarium at 603-271-STAR or visit the website at

For more information on the STEREO mission go to: