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Get in Touch With the Sun's Wild Side
Now you can feel sizzling clouds of electrified gas and trace the twisted magnetic fields that blasted them from the sun into space.
Cover of Touch the Sun book
The new "Touch the Sun" book allows blind and visually impaired students to experience images of the sun and solar activity by feeling transparent raised textures bonded to the pictures. On Dec. 2 at the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) in Baltimore, Md., NASA and the NFB will host an interactive opportunity for pre-selected blind students to explore the sun through this new and exciting solar book.

Image Right: Cover of the new "Touch the Sun" book, available for purchase in Spring 2005. "Touch the Universe" and "Touch the Stars" are available now. Credit: NASA

"Our bright yellow star appears unchanging but in fact is an active, violent place that directly affects our home planet," said author Noreen Grice. "'Touch the Sun' is a universally designed book for readers of all visual abilities. Explore the sun with embossed color pictures of swirling gas currents, dark sunspots, curving magnetic fields and explosive eruptions."

Blind students explore the Sun through tactile images
"Touch the Sun" features arresting images from the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) and the Transition Region and Coronal Explorer (TRACE) spacecraft as well as a close-up of a sunspot from the National Solar Observatory at Sacramento Peak in the Lincoln National Forest, N.M.

Image Left: Callie Hurst tests out some of the early versions of the book with Ben Wentworth, a retired science teacher. Credit: James Bristol, Coloado School for the Deaf and Blind

"Invisible magnetic fields rule the violent solar activity that generates space weather," said Dr. Joseph Gurman, the U.S. project scientist for SOHO at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md. "We are all blind to magnetic fields, so the visually impaired can be just as successful as the sighted in solar science." Gurman collaborated with Steele Hill, the SOHO imaging specialist at Goddard, to select the images and edit the scientific content.

Sample page showing embossed patterns over the sun
Image Right: A preview page from "Touch the Sun." The embossed lines are meant to illustrate the fluctuating texture of the sun and a prominence rising on the limb. Click for a high resolution version or here for a page demonstrating the sun's size compared to Earth's. Credit: NASA/Joseph Henry Press

The book was written by Noreen Grice, author of two other books featuring textured celestial images for the visually impaired: "Touch the Universe" and "Touch the Stars." "Touch the Sun" was funded by a partnership among NASA, the Lockheed Martin Corporation's Advanced Technology Center in Palo Alto, Calif., and the Stanford Solar Center, Stanford University, Stanford, Calif.

Approximately 2,500 copies will be printed. The majority will be distributed free of charge to blind and visually impaired students with the assistance of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children, a division of the National Federation of the Blind. The remainder will be made available to the public for purchase.

Some of the solar images that appear in the book
Image Left: Some of the images selected for the "Touch the Sun" book include views from the SOHO and TRACE spacecraft. Credit: NASA/ESA/LMSAL

Raised patterns embossed over the images in "Touch the Sun" translate colors, shapes, and other intricate details of the sun and space weather, allowing visually impaired people to feel what they cannot see. The book incorporates Braille and large-print descriptions for each of the book's 16 photographs, so it is accessible to readers of all visual abilities.

Students at the Colorado School for the Deaf and Blind in Colorado Springs, Colo., evaluated each image for clarity and provided suggestions for improvement.

Gurman initiated "Touch the Sun" after he saw "Touch the Universe" being presented at the June 2002 meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Albuquerque, N.M. "I realized solar science was a natural fit for a book like this, and our partners did as well. This was one of those rare projects where there was no resistance to the idea -- everyone who heard about it was enthusiastic."

"Touch the Sun" is being published by the Joseph Henry Press, trade imprint of the National Academies Press (publisher for the National Academy of Sciences).

"Touch the Universe" News Feature
National Academies Press
National Braille Press
SOHO site

Bill Steigerwald
NASA Goddard Space Flight Center