A new method of processing images from the STEREO spacecraft could lead to important advances in space weather forecasting. The movie, released during a NASA press conference, has caught the attention of solar physicists, who say it could lead to important advances in space weather forecasting (see http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/stereo/news/solarstorm-tracking.html). The findings help resolve a 40-year mystery about the shape of the structures that cause space weather: how the structures that impact the Earth relate to the corresponding structures in the solar corona.
This movie uses newly reprocessed images from NASA's STEREO-A spacecraft that allow scientists to trace the anatomy of the December 2008 coronal mass ejection (CME) as it moves and changes on its journey from the Sun to the Earth, identify the origin and structure of the material that impacted Earth, and connect the image data directly with measurements at Earth at the time of impact.Credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center/SwRI/STEREO
When CMEs first leave the sun, they are bright and easy to see. Visibility is quickly reduced, however, as the clouds expand into space. By the time a typical CME crosses the orbit of Venus, it is a billion times fainter than the surface of the full Moon, and more than a thousand times fainter than the Milky Way. CMEs that reach Earth are almost as gossamer as a vacuum itself and correspondingly transparent. "Pulling these faint clouds out of the confusion of starlight and interplanetary dust has been an enormous challenge," says Craig DeForest, Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado. It took over two and a half years since the event occurred for his team to learn how to do it. Now that the technique has been perfected, it can be applied on a regular basis without such a long delay.
Many more movie versions and stills about this story can be found here: http://svs.gsfc.nasa.gov/vis/a010000/a010800/a010809/index.html