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Heliophysics 2012: Year in Review
12.31.12
 
As the year 2012 comes to a close, we look back on the major news events coming from NASA’s Heliophysics Division, which studies the sun-Earth connection.

We ended 2011 with a great deal of excitement as provided by comet Lovejoy’s trip around the sun in December, which had scientists and the public amazed with extraordinary imagery provided by the entire Heliophysics solar fleet.

SOHO sees comet Lovejoy's approach (left) and exit (right).
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These two images were taken by the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) and show comet Lovejoy heading in toward the sun (left) and then emerging back out the other side (right) a day later. Credit: NASA/SOHO


2012



Still from video of Jan 19, 2012 long duration solar flare and coronal mass ejection › View larger
The Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) captured this image of the M3.2 medium-class solar flare on January 19, 2012. Credit: NASA/SDO
JANUARY

NASA’s THEMIS (Time History of Events and Macroscale Interactions during Substorms) led a multi-spacecraft mission to determine how energy trapped in Earth’s radiation belts is released.

Significant Solar Events:
01.19.12 – M3.2 Flare (long duration) (right)
01.22.12 – M8.7 Flare "Solar energetic particle" event, largest since Oct. 2003.
01.27.12 – X1.8 Flare







The MSL Curiosity rover in the assembly facility.
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Curiosity doesn't look much like a human being, but the rover turns out to be an excellent stunt double for real astronauts. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
FEBRUARY

The Mars Curiosity rover (left) made news before it even reached Mars by recording space weather events while on its journey to the red planet.

Significant Solar Events:
There was no significant solar activity for February of 2012.










atrex rockets blow luminous smoke rings in the upper atmosphere › View larger
NASA successfully launched five suborbital sounding rockets on March 27, 2012. Each rocket released a chemical tracer that created milky, white clouds at the edge of space. Tracking the way the clouds move can help scientists understand the movement of the winds some 65 miles up in the sky. Credit: NASA/Chris Perry
MARCH

The Anomalous Transport Rocket Experiment (ATREX) (right) sounding rocket mission, which launched five rockets in five minutes from Wallops, Va, entranced sky watchers with its tentacles of smoke in the night sky, which were used to study upper atmosphere wind currents.

Significant Solar Events:
All of the the March flares were generated from a single large sunspot region, named AR1429, as it traversed the face of the sun.
03.02.12 - 03.04.12 – Two Ms and an X1 Flares
03.06.12 – X5.4 Flare Largest flare of 2012 - second largest of solar cycle (X6.9 on 08.09.11)
03.08.12 – M6.3 Flare
03.13.12 – M7.9 Flare








Image of solar prominence eruption associated with M1.7 class solar flare.
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An eruption on April 16, 2012 was captured here by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory in the 304 Angstrom wavelength, which is typically colored in red. Credit: NASA/SDO/AIA
APRIL

April marked five years of the International Space Weather Initiative (ISWI). Initiated by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and working through the United Nations, ISWI dramatically increase heliophysics observatories around the world and providing many interesting science results.

Significant Solar Events:
04.16.12 – M1 Flare produces Giant Prominence (left)









Diagram of the heliosphere with components labeled. › View larger
Our heliosphere is buffeted by strong magnetic fields (the black, diagonal, upward-pointing arrows). The heliosphere and the interstellar material of the local cloud pass by each other at a speed of 52,000 miles per hour (the blue arrow). The density of the material and the ramming pressures of the magnetic field coupled with the relatively slow speed of the heliosphere add up to indicate that there is no bow shock at the front of the heliosphere. Credit: SWRI
MAY

The western United States and Asia witnessed a solar eclipse.

NASA’s Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX) mission discovered a missing boundary at the edge of the solar system. (right)

Significant Solar Events:
05.09.12 – M4.7 Flare with 930 mps coronal mass ejection (CME)
















Merged images of Venus transit from SDO showing Venus' path across the sun.
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Sequence of images from Solar Dynamic Observatory (SDO) in 171 wavelength of the Venus transit, merged together to show the path of Venus across the Sun. Credit: NASA/SDO
JUNE

The transit of Venus (left) across the sun was observed by many instruments in the heliophysics solar fleet.

Significant Solar Events:
06.13.12 - 06.14.12 – M1.2 (two long duration flares)











Shown in green to enhance detail, these Hi C images reveal detailed tangles of magnetic field, channeling the solar plasma into a range of complex structures. › View larger
Hi-C's resolution (bottom) is five times more detailed than the Atmospheric Imaging Assembly flying aboard NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory, or SDO (top). Credit: NASA
JULY

Two more highly successful solar sounding rocket launches:
High Resolution Coronal Imager (HI-C) (right) carried the highest resolution solar telescope ever to observe the solar corona.
Solar Ultraviolet Magnetograph Investigation (SUMI) studied the intricate, constantly changing magnetic fields on the sun.

Significant Solar Events:
As in March, a single sunspot region, named AR1515, was the source of all flares between July 2-7. In total, AR1515 released 13 M class, 1 X class and numerous C class flares during its transit of the sun.
07.02.12 – M5.6 Flare
07.04.12 – M5.3 Flare
07.05.12 – M6.1 Flare
07.06.12 – X1.1 Flare
07.07.12 – M6.9 Flares
07.12.12 – X1.4 Flare
07.30.12 – M6.2 Flare



Graphic of the Van Allen Radiation Belts that surround Earth.
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Two giant donuts of charged particles called the Van Allen Belts surround Earth. Credit: NASA/T. Benesch, J. Carns
AUGUST

The launch of the newest edition to the heliophysics fleet of spacecraft, the Van Allen Probes, produced almost immediate scientific data on Earth's radiation belts (left).

Significant Solar Events:
08.17.12 – M5.6 Flare








Since its launch in 2006, the STEREO spacecraft have drifted further and further apart to gain different views of the sun. › View larger
Since its launch in 2006, the STEREO spacecraft have drifted further and further apart to gain different views of the sun. Credit: NASA/GSFC
SEPTEMBER

The twin Voyager spacecraft celebrated 35 years in space.

STEREO’s twin spacecraft (right) reached positions such that they and Earth were all three equally spaced around the sun.

Significant Solar Events:
There were no significant solar events in September 2012.









When the interplanetary magnetic field is oriented westward (dawnward) or eastward (duskward), magnetopause boundary layers at higher latitude become most subject to Kelvin–Helmholtz instabilities.
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When the interplanetary magnetic field (IMF) is oriented westward (dawnward) or eastward (duskward), magnetopause boundary layers at higher latitude become most subject to Kelvin–Helmholtz instabilities — shown here in an artist’s representation as giant swirls. Credit: AOES Medialab
OCTOBER

The ESA/NASA Cluster mission obtains new insight into the solar wind (left).

Significant Solar Events:
10.20.12 - M9 Flare
10.22.12 - M5 and X1.8 Flares.














A total solar eclipse was visible from the Northern tip of Australia on Nov. 13, 2012 at 3:35 EST. › View larger
A total solar eclipse was visible from the Northern tip of Australia on Nov. 13, 2012 at 3:35 EST. The light halo visible around the edges of the moon is the sun's atmosphere, the corona. Image courtesy of Romeo Durscher
NOVEMBER

Earth’s southern hemisphere experienced a total solar eclipse (right)
› Additional eclipse link

Significant Solar Events:
11.12.12 – M6 Flare
11.20.12 – 11.23.12 – For the 2012 Thanksgiving week, the sun sent three Earth-directed Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs), which resulted in visible aurora as far south as the mid-United States, a rare treat! View the following links for information/imagery:
http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/sunearth/news/News112412-cme.html
http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/sunearth/news/News112212-cme.html
http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/sunearth/news/News112012-cme.html





Artist's concept of NASA's Voyager 1 spacecraft in solar wind
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This artist's concept shows how NASA's Voyager 1 spacecraft is bathed in solar wind from the southern hemisphere flowing northward. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
DECEMBER:

Voyager I entered a new region of space (left) on its journey out of our heliosphere into interstellar space.

Significant Solar Events:
There were no significant solar events in December 2012.












To learn more about the study of heliophysics and for the latest NASA solar science news, visit:
http://www.nasa.gov/sunearth
 
 
Compiled by Holly Zell
NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, MD