Space observatory unravels sun's mysteries
Module sending back strange, beautiful show
March 13, 1997
Web posted at: 11:00 p.m. EST
PARIS (CNN) -- The sun's orange-red brilliance is set off
against the starry background of the Sagittarian
constellation and the Milky Way, its violent solar winds
swirling in all directions.
A comet streaks across the sky, headed straight toward the
solar surface. Swallowed up in the mass of fiery gas, the
This remarkable, close-up sequence of goings on in and around
our sun -- and other equally remarkable scenes like it --
have been made possible by SOHO, a solar observatory launched
by the European Space Agency.
SOHO sits between the Earth and the sun, in a special orbit
which allows the observatory to face the sun continuously
without being damaged by its heat. Scientists are getting
uninterrupted information about the sun's activities from
SOHO, which is beaming the strangely beautiful show back for
viewing on Earth.
"We really get that feeling of the sun as a star," says the
space agency's Guenther Bruckner. "It's really very
Sun's affect on Earth being explored
SOHO is also providing scientists, and the rest of us, with
new information on how the sun's activity might affect us
here on Earth.
For instance, in early January, an eruption on the sun's
surface threw a great puff of gas towards Earth. As the gas
cloud swelled, it appeared as a halo around the sun in photos
snapped by SOHO.
Four days later, the effects of the eruption reached the SOHO
module itself. Measurements showed that the solar wind
increased from 350 kilometers per second to more than 500
kilometers per second (215 miles per second to 310 miles per
second). Soon afterward, American, Russian and Japanese
satellites registered the event, which caused a magnetic
storm and bright auroras.
The doomed comet entered the solar atmosphere around
Christmas time last year. Bruckner says scientists believe
that the comet, which entered the gas cloud but did not come
out the other side, must have impacted on the sun.
Reuters contributed to this report.
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