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User-Friendly Solar Satellite Views

Your mother always told you to never look directly at the Sun. While that's great advice outside, NASA now gives you a way to stare at the Sun indoors. Thanks to some high-tech aides, you can now see the up-close and dazzling details of the big ball of fire for yourself.

SEC Media Viewer

The Sun-Earth Connection Media Viewer is available through many of the NASA websites and updated every two hours with real satellite data.

An interactive Sun-Earth Media Viewer provides nine satellite views of the Sun and three views of the Earth, updating itself every two hours. These real images are the same ones that scientists use to track stormy space weather events that affect everything from power grids and satellites to astronauts in space. Using the Flash interface, you can zoom into the incredible details of solar storms, and see the true impact of the Sun on the Earth's atmosphere. To keep things in perspective, keep an eye on the size of the planet Earth in the info bar to the right of your screen. You can also get in-depth information about flares and auroras with a special section devoted to animating these sometimes difficult-to-grasp concepts.

But why on Earth would NASA develop this viewer to bring you real-time images of the Sun?

It all started with a series of satellites, several ground observatories, a really big computer, and lots of data. There wasn't really a great way to share all these great satellite images to the public, though. The Viewer not only has "real NASA data," but also explains "what all of this data means in an easy-to-understand way," according to NASA educator Troy Cline. "We wanted a way to allow students and teachers to have one-stop shopping for information about the connection between the Sun and the Earth."

Setting out to make these really 'cool' images even 'cooler' by kids understanding just what they are looking at, the Sun-Earth Connection Education Forum worked with IDEUM multimedia design studio in Sausalito, Calif., to create the Macromedia Flash interface to house all of this information. Concepts such as coronal mass ejections, sunspots, flares, and auroras are explained with movies, words, and pictures thanks to top-notch NASA visualizers.

Internationally, web surfers have taken notice. The Viewer recently received a Pirelli INTERNETional Award for excellence in scientific communication. This international award recognizes the top multimedia works that contribute to science and technology learning through the Internet.

"We just wanted a way to get real NASA data out to students," says NASA educator Troy Cline. His colleague Elaine Lewis quickly agreed. "This is a great honor to be [given] this award."

The NASA Sun-Earth Viewer was selected from more than 1,700 entries, winning top honors in the environment category. Pirelli, an Italian multinational manufacturer of tires, energy, and telecommunications systems, launched the international multimedia competition in 1996. NASA received the award once before in 2000 for the Science@NASA website.

So next time you journey outside, take your shades and remember what your mother always told you: 'Don't look directly at the Sun.' But if you really want to, you can sneak a peak online with NASA's Sun-Earth Media Viewer.

Sun-Earth Media Viewer
More on the Pirelli INTERNETional Award

Jason Townsend
NASA Goddard Space Flight Center