NASA has released the first 360-degree view of the sun.
The image will help with things like space weather prediction and planning for future space missions. It was captured using two of NASA's Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory (STEREO) spacecrafts. The pair of vessels works in tandem to record images of the sun at 180 degrees apart, with one ahead and one behind the earth's orbit. Time Magazine describes STEREO's position as following Earth's orbital path, "one is where we'll be in three months, and the other is where we were three months ago."
The images STEREO provides are especially revolutionary, because without them, earthings would not be able to see the side of the sun that is facing away from the blue planet for 12 days, Time said.
STEREO was originally launched in 2006. It provided the first 3D images of the sun in 2007. In 2009, it showed evidence of electro-charged weather on the surface of the sun, storms that can disrupt electronics and other vital systems on the earth. These phenomena are called coronal mass ejections (CMEs), violent tides of electromagnetic radiation that the sun emits from its surface that are sometimes aimed at the Earth. In the past, CMEs have downed telecom and GPS satellites in North America.
Rather than burning with consistent force, the sun is a body that cycles through phases of high activity and relative calm. STEREO helps better monitor these phases, which usually last for an average of 11 years. The current cycle began in 1996 and has lasted longer than expected, but recently scientists announced that the sun is headed for its period of most turbulent activity, called Solar Max.
The image NASA released on Sunday was collected on STEREO's third mission.