Access key links:

This site uses cookies to help make it more useful and reliable. Our cookies page explains what they are, which ones we use, and how you can manage or remove them.


Sub menu

Humankind sees the Sun as never before

7 Feb 2011

For the first time in history a stunning view of the whole Sun is visible to the world. The unique 360 degree view of the Sun was unveiled on Sunday 6 February 2011 after NASA’s two STEREO (Solar TErrestrial RElations Observatory) spacecraft were aligned exactly opposite each other on either side of the Sun.

The 360 degree coverage from STEREO is enhanced by NASA's SDO mission (Solar Dynamics Observatory) which images the Sun in high resolution. As the STEREO probes continue flying to the far side of the Sun, the area of unseen solar territory on the near side will increase, and SDO's cameras will play a vital role in filling the gap. Working together, these new views of the Sun will allow scientists to better predict space weather and the violent eruptions from the Sun's surface. These can damage satellites, disrupt communications and disable power systems on Earth.

The UK, including STFC scientists and engineers, has provided essential expertise and technology to both SDO and STEREO. The instruments for both missions use cameras designed and built at STFC's Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (RAL). UK involvement in STEREO is funded by the UK Space Agency.

Professor Richard Harrison, Principal Investigator for the UK instruments on STEREO and SDO Co-Investigator said, "The Sun is a truly complex object which influences many aspects of our lives. In the same way that you would not expect to understand the workings of the brain by studying just a small part of it, a global investigation into the nature of our star as a complete object is essential to understanding how it works."

Dr Chris Davis, STFC STEREO Project Scientist said, "The STEREO mission has already shown us some wonderful sights, solar eruptions arriving at the Earth to comets struggling against the solar wind. I'm very excited about this new stage of the mission and am looking forward to many years of unique observations." Dr Davis is also a leading scientist in Solar Stormwatch, a project in which members of the public use images from STEREO to spot explosions on the Sun, track them across space to Earth and provide an early warning to astronauts. Dr David Parker, Director of Space Science and Exploration for the UK Space Agency, said, “Solar missions such as STEREO and SDO not only give us more information about star formation and evolution throughout our Universe but are of vital importance in our quest to further understand the Sun's processes and the effect they can have on our planet and way of life. This spectacular 360 degree view is another triumph for the STEREO mission which continues to obtain some of the best images yet of the Sun. We're extremely proud of our skilled UK team who are playing an important role in this mission and helping to further unravel the secrets of our star."

Scientists have already established that the magnetic fields in the Sun's atmosphere drive solar activity on a global scale. This view of the entire Sun will enable more detailed studies of these processes at work. The 360 degree observations will continue for the lifetime of the missions.

Further information:

The CCD-based camera systems on all of the solar imaging instruments aboard both STEREO and SDO were developed in the UK by a collaboration between the STFC Rutherford Appleton Laboratory and the University of Birmingham, with e2v Ltd providing world-leading camera technology.

UK collaboration

UK institutions involved in STEREO are: Birmingham University, University of Aberystwyth, Imperial College London, Mullard Space Science Laboratory, University of Glasgow, University of St. Andrews.

UK institutions involved in SDO are:

STFC Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, Mullard Space Science Laboratory, University College London, University of Sheffield, e2v Ltd


The NASA STEREO mission was launched in October 2006 and is providing a totally new perspective on the Sun. The two identical spacecraft are offset from one another, one flying ahead of the earth and the other behind. The spacecraft look back at the sun and the space between the sun and the earth which allows 3D images of the sun to be produced. The cameras (Space-led Heliospheric Imagers) on board STEREO were designed and built at RAL. These cameras look at the space between the Sun and the Earth using wide-angle telescopes. STEREO is funded by the UK Space Agency

For more information about STEREO visit NASA's STEREO website

Solar Dynamics Observatory.

SDO is the first mission in NASA’s Living with a Star (LWS) programme and was launched in February 2010. SDO's unique orbit allows high resolution images of the Sun to be recorded every three quarters of a second, providing in-depth information about the Sun’s complex magnetic fields and space weather generated by solar flares and violent eruptions (CME's) from the Sun’s atmosphere which can disable satellites, disrupt communications, cause power grid failures, and expose astronauts to deadly particle doses. The UK, including STFC scientists and engineers, has provided essential expertise and technology to the mission. In addition CCD Camera electronics systems for two of the three scientific instruments on SDO, STFC has a scientific interest through a co-investigator role and receipt of high data-rate data, automated analysis, and storage of data for UK Scientists. For more information about SDO visit NASA's SDO website.

Solar Stormwatch

Solar Sormwatch is a web project where members of the public can help spot and track solar storms and be involved in the latest solar research. For more information about Solar Stormwatch visit the Solar Stormwatch website


The UK Space Agency

The UK Space Agency is at the heart of UK efforts to explore and benefit from space.

The UK's thriving space sector contributes £9.1 billion a year to the UK economy and directly employs 28,900 with an average growth rate of almost 7.5%. (The Size and Health of the UK Space Sector 2010/11, preliminary survey results.)

View a list of organisations that we work with.

UK space sector videos

To view this content you need Flash and Javascript enabled in your browser. Please download Flash from the Adobe download website.

View larger video

UK Space Agency on Twitter

spacegovuk (80,775 followers)