Explore the Entire Region of the Sun’s Influence with NASA's 'Heliophysics Virtual Observatories'
Have you ever wondered how much data exist about the sun and how it affects the solar system and beyond? Data sets and images returned from NASA's cadre of space physics spacecraft, known collectively as the Heliophysics Great Observatory, now can be accessed through one convenient location at the Heliophysics Data Environment (HPDE) web site.

Still image from animation about the Heliophysics Observatories
> Click for a streaming video of Goddard's Heliophysics Observatories (Windows Media Viewer)
Credit: NASA
NASA's heliophysics "virtual observatories" are the gateways for its myriad research-quality numerical data, graphs, and awe-inspiring images and movies of the sun, Earth's dazzling, dancing lights, called aurora, and the vast regions of charged particles and magnetic fields within the region of the sun’s influence, called the heliosphere.

Inspired by a desire to make finding space physics information as easy as book lovers locate a text on Amazon.com, the heliophysics virtual observatories offer a wealth of resources to learn more about the sun, Earth and heliosphere. The data are held all around the world, and the virtual observatories make accessing it easy. Armchair astronomers and space-weather aficionados alike will all find something to spark their interest in this vast well of information.

"The virtual observatories are the heliophysics gateway to the data products and resources of NASA's Heliophysics Great Observatory," said Aaron Roberts, project scientist for the Heliophysics Data and Model Consortium at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. "We still have a fair amount of work to do to fully achieve our goals, but we have come a long way toward easy access to all the data in our domain," adds Roberts.

Multi-instrument and multi-mission studies of the sun and its effects on Earth, the other planets in our solar system, and the heliosphere provide a means to tackle the science problems facing the space physics research community today. Here are just a few of those questions: Why is the solar corona so hot? What would happen if there were a prolonged period of inactivity on the sun? When will a powerful solar flare or coronal mass ejection interfere with navigation and communication systems on Earth?

Citizen astronomers can help researchers in their quest to answer these challenging questions. The first step is becoming informed, and the virtual observatories are a great place to start.

NASA’s Heliophysics Great Observatory's virtual observatories can be accessed from the HPDE web site. Here, you'll find all the resources you need to learn fascinating facts about the sun and its influences on Earth and the heliopshere. Here you can explore the virtual observatories and their resources. For example, click on the "Virtual Space Physics Observatory" and you'll find resources for most of NASA’s heliophysics missions, listed alphabetically by mission, instrument and data set, and searchable by categories such as type of measurement or observatory, or by keywords, using a Google-like search. Other Heliophysics resources will be added to complete the set.

Increasingly, students and others with an interest in how the sun affects Earth through space weather also find these enigmas fascinating. And for those who just want to see pretty images of the sun, they’re there in abundance.

The Heliophysics Great Observatory's space-weather page--another link from the HPDE website--gathers informative resources for students, citizen astronomers, and space-weather buffs. Here you'll find links to current space-weather forecasts and the latest detections of coronal mass ejections—violent outbursts that spew tons of high-speed particles and plasma into the solar wind, sometimes toward Earth. The result can mean interrupted radio signals and global positioning system (GPS) navigation data.

NASA's Heliophysics virtual observatories offer a multitude of resources to learn more about the fascinating life of our nearest star and its effects on Earth and the region influenced by the sun.

For more information about the virtual observatories and the data and resources available through the Heliophysics Great Observatory, visit: > Heliophysics Data Environment

Laura Layton
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center