NASA's Stereo mission brings first 360-degree images of Sun

43297.jpegTwo probes from NASA's Stereo mission have beamed back the first ever 360-degree panoramic images of the Sun.

Two satellites orbiting the Sun perfectly aligned on opposite sides for the first time taking images that when combined create the most complete picture ever of its surface.

Scientists, who include those at Britain's Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in Oxfordshire, believe the photo is as significant as those taken of the first men on the Moon and the first ever images of the Earth from outer space, according to

Writing in Discover, astronomer Phil Plait noted that unlike the Earth's moon, the Sun doesn't have permanent far side.

"The Moon spins once for every time it goes around the Earth, so it appears like the same face is always toward us. But the Sun rotates once about every 24.5 days. During that time, the Earth has moved 1/15th of the way around its orbit, so the Sun has to spin a little more to "catch up" with the Earth -- another 1.7 days. So over the course of about a month we see the entire surface of the Sun."

All throughout that period, the Sun is changing - Plait describes it as "a seething, writhing ball of plasma (ionized gas)." Until now, if there was a solar event on one side of the Sun, we wouldn't know about it for at least another week when the star's rotation offered a view - assuming that it still remained the same or had not disappeared. Scientists no longer labor under that handicap, CBS News reports.


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