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Science Highlights from NASA's Sun-Solar System Connection
05.24.05
 
NASA scientists have seen solar blasts hit Earth's magnetic fields, and they have been able to track them to the edge of the solar system with the help of Voyager. Other spacecraft have found misconceptions about Earth's invulnerability from the Sun, and the twice-in-a-century transit of Venus has provided new evidence of the relationship between Earth's climate and solar activity.

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Check the Space Weather Resources for news sites, tutorials, and up-to-the-minute images.


Star of the Show

Multi-Mission View of the Sun
Multimission view of the sunIn this new view, images from 7 instruments on 3 separate satellites are combined in one frame. With so many coordinated spacecraft datasets and so many diverse assignments, this visualization is striking in that it lines up the data to provide a radical view of one solar event from sunspot to flare to the X-rays pinpointed on that flare to the CME billowing out into space.

Credit: NASA / ESA / LMSAL



Full-disk View
Full Disk ViewMillions of miles away, CMEs from the Sun blast billions of tons of plasma into our magnetosphere with the potential to disturb space systems, power grids and communications.

Credit: NASA / ESA







Amazing Changing Sun
The Changing Sun Solar maximum is the 2-3 year peak period (2000-2001 marked the peak of this cycle) when activity is most complex and turbulent, and the space around Earth is most disturbed.

Credit: NASA/ESA



Fountains of Fire
Fountains of Fire Close-up images reveal an active surface with coronal loops emerging and disappearing all over the Sun's surface and can span a length of about 250,000 miles, or about 30 times the diameter of Earth.

Credit: NASA / LMSAL



Sunspots
Sunspots Sunspots appear dark because they are cooler than the solar surface and can last for weeks and can be as large as 80,000 km (over 6 planet Earths). Click here for the animated movie.

Credit: NASA / ESA



How Do Active Regions Form?
Active-RegionsPeering beneath the surface of AR 9393 revealed regions comprised of many small magnetic structures that rise quickly from deep within the Sun. Click here for the animated movie.

Credit: NASA



What is the Aurora?
AurorasPlasma from solar storms hit the Earth’s magnetic field, ejecting oxygen ions from upper atmosphere. The ions flow along Earth's field lines until pressure from solar wind stretches the field toard the night-side of the Earth like a rubber band and snaps back.

Credit: NASA



Why Do we See Red in the Sky?
Red SkyCollisions between fast-moving electrons and the oxygen and nitrogen in Earth’s upper atmosphere create aurora. The electrons from the magnetosphere transfer energy to the gases, making them “excited.” As they “calm down” and return to their normal state, they emit small bursts of energy in the form of light. Oxygen produces a greenish-yellow or red light; nitrogen generally gives off a blue light. Click here for the animated movie.

Credit: NASA



What Shields The Earth?
Earth shieldSolar wind shapes and impacts Earth’s magnetic field. The magnetosphere extends out about 65,000 km (40,000 miles) on the Sun side, and more than ten times that distance on the opposite side, well beyond the Moon’s orbit.

Credit: NASA




Storm of the Solar Cycle & Breaking News

Multi-Mission Solar View
Multi Mission ViewThis view captures the October/November events using five instruments on three separate satellites. Click here for the animated video.

Credit: NASA / ESA / LMSAL





Comet makes Appearance
Comet makes appearance Comet ASAS (C/2004 R2) ranks among the brightest in recent times and passed about 10 million miles from the Sun, making SOHO the only witness to its journey.Click here for the animated video.

Credit: NASA / ESA







Unusual November Light Show
Light showBoth the IMAGE and Polar spacecraft were flying over the south pole and captured the aurora australis (southern lights) expanding and brightening on November 8. Click here for the animated video.

Credit: NASA







Sunspot Size of 20 Earths
SunspotsAt 20 times the size of Earth, the largest sunspot observed since the fall 2003 appeared on July 23 and generated several medium-sized flares and CMEs over three and a half days. Click here for the animated video.

Credit: NASA / ESA







New Views From Trace

1. Nov 4, 2003 X-28 flare / Active Region 10486
2. Oct 28, 2003 X -17 flare / Active Region 10486
3. Aug 28, 2003 Active Region 10442
4. Aug 25, 2001 Active Region 9591

Credit: NASA / LMSAL




The Latest Observations

Genesis Comes Back Home
GenesisGenesis captured solar wind particles between Dec 5, 2001 and April 1, 2004. Researchers started sending out scientific samples to universities and other centers in January 2005.

Credit: NASA








Solar Tsunamis
solar tsunamis
A view of a "Solar Tsunami," or "EIT Wave," observed on June 13, 1998. These tsunamis can travel the entire diameter of the Sun, lasting 10 to 60 minutes and travel about 300 km/second (186 miles/second). Click here for the animated video.

Credit: NASA / LMSAL



The Tsunami Trigger
The Tsunami Trigger When the tsunami waves travel through the corona, they act like sonar pulses. Magnetic fields, densities, and temperature fluctuations cause the waves to slow down, speed up, or move in different directions. Click here for the animated video.

Credit: NASA



Seeing Through the Sun
Seeing the sun The Sun rotates roughly once every 27 days and knowing what’s rotating around to meet us is crucial. This visualization uses data to "see through" the Sun to the far side. Click here for the animated video.

Credit: NASA / ESA




First 3-D View of Solar Eruptions
3-d Coronal Mass Ejection Seeing CMEs in 3D helps scientists understand the origin and processes that launch explosions of plasma. Because the CME gas is electrified, it spirals around the field, tracing out its shape.Click here for the animated video.

Credit: NASA / ESA



LASCO Perspective
Lasco Perspective Modeling based on LASCO data. One imager extends up to 8.4 million km (5 million miles) from the Sun and the other 45 million km (30 million miles), almost the distance between Mercury and the Sun. Click here for the animated video.

Credit: NASA / ESA






In Time for Olympic Flame, Sun Lights Up the Skies
Olympic FlameThe Olympic flame in Athens was lit after traveling about 48,000 miles. Particles from the Sun traveled 93 million miles to light up skies in Iowa, Michigan, California, and New York. Click here for the animated video.

Credit: NASA / University of Iowa







Close-up of Southern Aurora from Space
Southern Aurora Flying over the South Pole, the IMAGE spacecraft these views around 7 pm ET on July 26. Ultraviolet light is invisible to the human eye, but can be detected by special instruments like those on IMAGE. Click here for the animated video.

Credit: NASA / UC Berkeley





Scientists Look at Moon to Shed Light on Earth’s Climate
Moonshine Observations of the dark side of the Moon and satellite cloud data suggested Earth bounced less sunlight into space in the 1980s and 1990s. Studying these changes offers clues to changing climate.

Credit: NASA







Earthshine Highlights the Dark Side of the Moon
Earthshine Only about two-thirds of the sunlight that reaches Earth actually makes it to our planet’s surface. The rest bounces off reflective surfaces into space.Click here for the animated video.

Credit: NASA




Venus Transits the Sun
Venus Transit June 8 marked a rare twice-in-a-century event as Venus crosses the face of the Sun; the last two were in 1874 and 1882. It won't happen again until 2012and 2117.Click here for the animated video.

Credit: NASA



Satellite Observations
Venus Transit About 75 percent of the Earth’s population witnessed Venus crossing paths with the Sun on June 8. At about 1/30 the size of the solar disk, it was just barely visible with the naked eye.Click here to view the animated video.

Credit: NASA / LMSAL



1882 Transit Observations
1882 Venus Transit Expeditions were sent worldwide to observe the 1874 and 1882 transits and determine the size of the solar system. This is one of 11 plates from the 1882 American expedition.

Credit: U.S. Naval Observatory







Other ‘SORCEs’ of Sun-Block are Observed
SunblockerThe slightest change in the Sun’s output is crucial to our climate system; both the Venus Transit and the 2003 solar flares decreased total solar brightness by three-tenths of one percent for one week. Click here for the animated video.

Credit: NASA / NOAA



SORCE's Anniversary and Once-in-a-Lifetime Observations
SORCETo put the three-tenths of one percent into perspective, the last time Earth experienced that sort of decrease (but over 50 years), Earth experienced the “Little Ice Age. Click here for the animated video.

Credit: NASA / LASP





Tracking the Solar Spectrum
Electromagnetic Radiation from the Sun consists of electromagnetic waves with a wide range of wavelengths reaching different levels of Earth's atmosphere, land, and oceans. Click here for the animated video.

Credit: NASA







2004 Press Conferences

Safe Zone becomes the Hot Zone
Safe Zone Becomes Hot A gap in the Van Allen radiation belts about 7,000 km (4,350 miles) to 13,000 km (8,110 miles) above Earth's surface was long considered a "safe zone" from the harmful radiation that damages satellites. Click here for the animated video.

Credit: NASA



Signs of a Hot Zone
Safe Zone In October 2003, CMEs pushed Earth’s outer atmosphere into interplanetary space, filling the safe zone's gap and creating a new radiation belt. The red ring represents the potential orbit of a satellite. Click here for the animated video.

Credit: NASA



Signs of a Hot Zone
Hot Zone The plasmasphere (green) is blown out to the magnetopause (gray barrier), the main point of contact between the solar wind and Earth’s protective magnetic field lines. Click here for the animated video.

Credit: NASA




Blast Wave Blows through the Solar System
FlaresThis tour of a Fall 2003 CME comes courtesy of solar sentinel SOHO, IMAGE and Polar at Earth, Mars Odyssey, Ulysses near Jupiter, Cassini at Saturn, and Voyager 1 and 2 at the edge of the solar system. Click here for the animated movie.

Credit: NASA




CME Reaches Mars
MarsWhile none of NASA's satellites near Earth were damaged, an instrument on the Mars Odyssey spacecraft was disabled by radiation in Mars' orbit. Click here for the animated movie.

Credit: NASA / Nagoya University




Jupiter and Saturn
Cassini Ulysses registered the solar particles around Nov. 7 near Jupiter, while the Cassini-Huygens mission detected solar radio bursts from particularly intense flares on Oct. 28 and Nov. 4. Click here for the animated movie.

Credit: NASA / ESA / ASI / University of Iowa




Voyager at the Heliopause
Cassini
Voyager 2, located about 7 billion miles (11 billion km) from the Sun, experienced the blast around mid-May while its counterpart, Voyager 1, over 8 billion miles away, saw the blast in early July. Click here for the animated movie.

Credit: NASA



Expansion of the Heliopause
Heliopause
A sort of bubble envelops our solar system and a boundary called the heliopause separates our solar system from the vastness of interstellar space. This boundary is fluid and changes with solar cycles and activity. Click here for the animated movie.

Credit: NASA




The Spacecraft

ACE Spacecraft
ACE
The Advanced Composition Explorer (ACE) spacecraft is designed to identify matter that comes near the Earth and to help scientists better understand the formation and evolution of the solar system. This matter can come from the Sun, the 'space' between planets, and the Milky Way galaxy. When reporting space weather, ACE can provide an advanced warning (about 1 hour) of geomagnetic storms that can affect Earth systems. It was launched on August 25, 1997.

Credit: NASA / ISAS



Cluster Spacecraft
Cluster
Four identical spacecraft carrying a complement of 11 identical instruments each, were launched in July and August 2000. The four fly in a close pyramid formation, giving scientists three-dimensional views of near-Earth space. Specifically they investigate the solar wind as it crashes into our planet's magnetosphere.

Credit: NASA / ESA








GeoTail Spacecraft
GeoTail
A joint US/Japanese project, 'Geotail' was the first in a series of five satellites to better understand the interaction of the Sun, the Earth's magnetic field and the Van Allen radiation belts. Located in the magnetic tail of the magnetosphere on the night side of the Earth, an area critical to understanding the interaction of the Sun and Earth, its primary objective is to study dynamics of the Earth's magnetotail. The spacecraft was launched on July 24, 1992

Credit: NASA / ISAS




Image Spacecraft
IMAGE Spacecraft
Launched on March 25, 2000, the Imager for Magnetopause-to-Aurora Global Exploration (IMAGE) spacecraft obtains continuous global images of charged particles in the Earth's magnetosphere and tracks these solar storms. One such storm can launch huge amounts of plasma from the Sun at more than 1 million mph and affect Earth systems.

Credit: NASA








Polar Spacecraft
Polar
'Polar' was launched on February 24, 1996 to study the geospace, or Earth's space environment. It performs simultaneous, coordinated measurements of key regions including observations of the entry and transport of solar plasma over Earth's magnetic poles, imaging of the northern aurora (Northern Lights), and investigations of solar wind properties.

Credit: NASA





RHESSI Spacecraft
RHESSI
The Ramaty High-Energy Solar Spectroscopic Imager (RHESSI) spacecraft watches the Sun in X-rays and gamma rays. RHESSI is the first spacecraft to make high-resolution movies of flares using their high-energy radiation. Launched on Feb. 5, 2002, its primary objective is to study the secrets of how solar flares are produced in the Sun's atmosphere. RHESSI orbits Earth about 15 times a day and spins on its axis every 4 seconds.

Credit: NASA



SDO Spacecraft
SDO Spacecraft
The Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) is slated to launch in 2008. It will study the solar variations that influence life on Earth and humanity’s technological systems.

Credit: NASA






SOHO Spacecraft
SOHO
Advance warning of potential bad weather in space is now possible thanks to the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) spacecraft launched in 1995. SOHO operates at a vantagepoint of about 1 million miles out in space between the Sun and Earth. It carries 12 instruments and is a joint project with the European Space Agency. Instruments include the Michelson Doppler Imager (MDI) that allows scientists to use a sort of ultrasound capability to see the far side of the Sun and inside it. The Large Angle Spectrometric Coronograph (LASCO) mimics an eclipse in order to study the Sun's corona, or outer atmosphere. The Extreme ultraviolet Imaging Telescope (EIT) allows for a full-disk view of the Sun.

Credit: NASA / ESA



SORCE Spacecraft
SORCE The SOlar Radiation and Climate Experiment (SORCE) maintains a 24-year legacy of solar output monitoring that should help explain and predict the effect of the Sun on the Earth's atmosphere and climate. With four instruments, it orbits Earth 15 times a day and analyzes the Sun's energy in visible, ultraviolet and infrared wavelengths that can be used to determine solar heating of Earth's oceans, ice, land and absorbing layers of the atmosphere. SORCE launched in January 2003.

Credit: NASA / LASP



STEREO Spacecraft
STEREO The Solar TErrestrial RElations Observatory (STEREO) is scheduled to launch in February 2006 and includes two nearly identical spacecraft that will image the Sun in 3-D for the first time ever.

Credit: NASA





TIMED Spacecraft
TIMED Launched in Dec. 2001, the Thermosphere-Ionosphere-Mesosphere-Energetics and Dynamics (TIMED) spacecraft is the first to study the region of our atmosphere that acts as a gateway between Earth's environment and space, called the Mesosphere and Lower Thermosphere/ Ionosphere (MLTI). Scientists hope to get a better understand of how Earth's environment and surroundings are impacted by solar energy.

Credit: NASA / APL



TRACE Spacecraft
TRACE NASA's Transition Region and Coronal Explorer (TRACE) points its powerful telescope at the "transition region" of the Sun's atmosphere, a highly volatile and dynamic region. Sensitive to ultraviolet and extreme-ultraviolet wavelengths of light, which are invisible to the human eye, scientists are given dynamic views of solar explosions and coronal mass ejections (CMEs). TRACE was launched on April 1, 1998.

Credit: NASA / LMSAL








Voyager Spacecraft
Voyager The two Voyager spacecraft send back about 12 hours' worth of data per day at about the speed of a slow modem and with the power of a 28-watt nightlight. They are approaching the edges of our solar system.

Credit: NASA / LMSAL




Wind Spacecraft
Wind The 'Wind' spacecraft provides complete plasma, energetic particle, and magnetic field input for magnetospheric and ionospheric studies. It detects the magnetic field carried by coronal mass ejection clouds, but its location only allows scientists about an hour's notice. It can estimate how severe the space storm will be by measuring the direction of the magnetic field, though. It was launched on November 1, 1994.

Credit: NASA