3D images of the Sun

Engineers at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth have produced the very first 3D images of the Sun.

Engineers at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth have produced the very first 3D images of the Sun using data from the NASA STEREO (Solar TErrestrial RElations Observatory) mission which was successfully launched in October 2006.

A team of engineers at See3D, a University spinout company that provides virtual reality services to industry and academia, has developed software that makes it possible to view images from STEREO in real time – within 30 seconds of receiving the data from the space craft.

This breakthrough means that University scientists are ahead of NASA in being able to view these images in full 3D.

The images were shown for the first time on Monday 23 April at the University’s Institute of Mathematical and Physical Sciences. They were shown in a virtual reality theatre equipped with a Fakespace Power Wall display.

See3D has also produced an anaglyph version that makes it possible to view the images through red and green lensed glasses, as used in cinemas to view films such as Jaws 3.
Dr Andy Breen is a leading member of the solar System Physics Research Group at Aberystwyth Institute of Mathematical and Physical Sciences, and a co-investigator on the mission’s SECCHI instrument (Sun Earth Connection Coronal and Heliospheric Investigation).

‘We’ve always known that we need to study the Sun in three dimensions in order to understand the complex structures in the solar atmosphere. STEREO provides us with the first opportunity to do this. Aberystwyth has been involved in STEREO planning from an early stand and, with the help of See3D, we are now in a terrific position to be one of the first to exploit this data,’ he said.

‘Understanding three-dimensional data an be difficult – unless you see it in three dimensions. The sophisticated 3D projection techniques developed by Phil Summers and Andrew Rawlins at See3D have allowed us to see the complex structure of the Sun’s atmosphere in three dimensions for the first time.’

Aberystwyth enjoys very close links with the group at Rutherford-Appleton Laboratory which has led UK involvement in STEREO. Richard Harrison – the principal investigator on the revolutionary Heliospheric Imager instrument – has recently been awarded an honorary professorship with IMAPS, while Chris Davis, the project scientist, is an Aberystwyth Graduate.