Want to see Solar Cycle 24 develop in realtime? There's an app for that…

Thanks to John A for this noteworthy news item.

Ok, this is for iPhone fanboys (and girls) in the main but NASA has just announced a new app for the iPhone called “3D Sun” which allows you to see the solar surface from the perspective of the STEREO satellites:

February 17, 2010: Imagine holding the entire sun in the palm of your hand […wouldn’t that sting a little? – JA]. Now you can. A new iPhone app developed by NASA-supported programmers delivers a live global view of the sun directly to your cell phone. Users can fly around the star, zoom in on active regions, and monitor solar activity.

“This is more than cool,” says Dick Fisher, director of NASA’s Heliophysics Division in Washington DC. “It’s transformative. For the first time ever, we can monitor the sun as a living, breathing 3-dimensional sphere.”

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Right: 3D Sun on the iPhone. You can spin the sphere by flicking it and zoom in by pinching the screen. [more]

Realtime images used to construct the 3-dimensional sphere are beamed to Earth by the Solar-Terrestrial Relations Observatory (STEREO), a pair of spacecraft with a combined view of 87% of the solar surface. STEREO-A is stationed over the western side of the sun, while STEREO-B is stationed over the east. Together, they rarely miss a thing.

Telescopes onboard the two spacecraft monitor the sun in the extreme ultraviolet (EUV) portion of the electromagnetic spectrum. “That’s why the 3D sun looks false-color green,” explains Lika Guhathakurta, STEREO program scientist at NASA Headquarters. “These are not white-light images.”

That’s okay because EUV is where the action is. Solar flares and new sunspots shine brightly at these wavelengths. EUV images also reveal “coronal holes,” vast dark openings in the sun’s atmosphere that spew streams of solar wind into the solar system. Solar wind streams that hit Earth can spark intense displays of Northern Lights.

“Using this app, you can spin the sun, zoom in on sunspots, inspect coronal holes–and when a solar flare erupts, your phone plays a little jingle to alert you!” says Guhathakurta.

Indeed, many users say that’s their favorite part—the alerts. The app comes alive on its own when the sun grows active or when interesting events are afoot. For example, a recent alert notified users that a comet just discovered by STEREO-A was approaching the sun. When the comet was destroyed by solar heating, the app played a movie of Comet STEREO’s last hours.

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Above: Representative screenshots from the app–from left to right, a prominence caught in mid-eruption by STEREO-B, a sample of the daily news screen, and a sungrazing comet movie recorded by STEREO-A.

Another remarkable aspect of the app is that it shows the far side of the sun—the side invisible from Earth. “This means sunspots cannot take us by surprise,” Guhathakurta points out.

Recently, STEREO-B was monitoring a far side sunspot (AR1041) when the sunspot’s magnetic field erupted. For the first time in almost two years, an active region on the sun produced a strong M-class1 solar flare. The unexpected interruption of the sun’s deep solar minimum was invisible from Earth, but anyone with the 3D Sun had a ringside seat for the blast.

3D Sun was created by a team of programmers led by Dr. Tony Phillips, editor of Science@NASA. He says that version 1 of the app is just the beginning. Soon-to-be released 3D Sun 2.0 will offer higher-resolution images and multiple extreme ultraviolet wavelengths (preview). These additions will reveal even more solar activity than before.

The name of the app is “3D Sun” and it may be downloaded free of charge at Apple’s app store. Just enter “3D Sun” in the Store’s search box or visit http://3dsun.org for a direct link.

So go to the AppStore on your iPhone and search for “3D Sun”. It’s pretty cool (about 6000K).

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8 thoughts on “Want to see Solar Cycle 24 develop in realtime? There's an app for that…

  1. Why would anyone want that on their phone? My phone is a vintage 2004 model with more functions than I use – I make phone calls and occasionaly text.
    If I feel the need to view a solar terrestrial stereo of the sun, I’ll go on the internet, thank you very much.

  2. Cool! This almost makes me want to buy a iPhone, as mine it too old for apps. 🙁 Am I the only one with a rotary-dial cellphone? 😉

  3. Vincent (03:36:15) :
    Why would anyone want that on their phone? My phone is a vintage 2004 model with more functions than I use – I make phone calls and occasionaly text.
    If I feel the need to view a solar terrestrial stereo of the sun, I’ll go on the internet, thank you very much.

    Here’s a novel concept. Not everyone is like you.

  4. PaulH (06:22:30) :
    Cool! This almost makes me want to buy a iPhone, as mine it too old for apps. 🙁 Am I the only one with a rotary-dial cellphone? 😉

    Does that have the 7-segment red LED display? Not as rare as the green LED, but the collectors still pay a good price for them on eBay. Which size rechargeables does it use, C or D? Is that one of the later ones where they recharged in-phone, or do you have to swap cells?

  5. kadaka (11:52:52) : Does that have the 7-segment red LED display? Not as rare as the green LED, but the collectors still pay a good price for them on eBay.
    Nah, it’s the one with Nixie Tube display 😉

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