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THE SUN  

Why We Study the Sun  
The Big Questions  
Magnetism - The Key  

SOLAR STRUCTURE  

The Interior  
The Photosphere  
The Chromosphere  
The Transition Region  
The Corona  
The Solar Wind  
The Heliosphere  

SOLAR FEATURES  

Photospheric Features  
Chromospheric Features  
Coronal Features  
Solar Wind Features  

THE SUN IN ACTION  

The Sunspot Cycle  
Solar Flares  
Post Flare Loops  
Coronal Mass Ejections  
Surface and Interior Flows
Helioseismology  

THE MSFC SOLAR GROUP  

The People  
Their Papers  
Their Presentations  

RESEARCH AREAS  

Flare Mechanisms  
3D Magnetic Fields  
The Solar Dynamo  
Solar Cycle Prediction  
Sunspot Database  
Coronal Heating  
Solar Wind Dynamics  

PREVIOUS PROJECTS  

GOES SXI Instrument  
MSFC Magnetograph  
MSSTA  
Orbiting Solar Obs.  
Skylab  
Solar Maximum Mission  
SpaceLab 2  
The Sun in Time (EPO)  
TRACE  
Ulysses  
Yohkoh  

CURRENT PROJECTS  

GONG  
Hinode  
RHESSI  
STEREO  
SDO  
SOHO  

FUTURE PROJECTS  

Solar Probe  
Interstellar Probe  

VIDEOS  

Solar Probe Plus  

Why We Study The Sun

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The Climate Connection

The Sun is a source of light and heat for life on Earth. Our ancestors realized that their lives depended upon the Sun and they held the Sun in reverent awe. We still recognize the importance of the Sun and find the Sun to be awe inspiring. In addition we seek to understand how it works, why it changes, and how these changes influence us here on planet Earth. The Sun was much dimmer in its youth and yet the Earth was not frozen. The quantity and quality of light from the Sun varies on time scales from milli-seconds to billions of years. During recent sunspot cycles the total solar irradiance has changed by about 0.1% with the sun being brighter at sunspot maximum. Some of these variations most certainly affect our climate but in uncertain ways.

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Space Weather

The Sun is the source of the solar wind; a flow of gases from the Sun that streams past the Earth at speeds of more than 500 km per second (a million miles per hour). Disturbances in the solar wind shake the Earth's magnetic field and pump energy into the radiation belts. Regions on the surface of the Sun often flare and give off ultraviolet light and x-rays that heat up the Earth's upper atmosphere. This "Space Weather" can change the orbits of satellites and shorten mission lifetimes. The excess radiation can physically damage satellites and pose a threat to astronauts. Shaking the Earth's magnetic field can also cause current surges in power lines that destroy equipment and knock out power over large areas. As we become more dependent upon satellites in space we will increasingly feel the effects of space weather and need to predict it.

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The Sun as a Star

The Sun also serves an important role in helping us to understand the rest of the astronomical universe. It is the only star close enough to us to reveal details about its surface. Without the Sun we would not have easily guessed that other stars also have spots and hot outer atmospheres. The Sun is the key to understanding other stars. We know the Sun's age, radius, mass, and luminosity (brightness) and we have also learned detailed information about its interior and atmosphere. This information is crucial for our understanding of other stars and how they evolve. Many physical processes that occur elsewhere in the universe can be examined in detail on the Sun. In this way solar astronomy teaches us much about stars, planetary systems, galaxies, and the universe itself.

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The Sun as a Physical Laboratory

The Sun produces its energy by nuclear fusion - four hydrogen nuclei are fused to form single helium nuclei deep within the Sun's core. We have worked for decades to reproduce this process (in a controlled manner) here on Earth. Most of these efforts involve extremely hot plasmas  in strong magnetic fields. (This plasma is not the blood product but rather a mixture of ions and electrons produced at high temperatures.) Much of solar astronomy involves observing and understanding plasmas under similar conditions. There continues to be much interaction between solar astronomers and scientific researchers in this and many other areas.

 

Web Links
NOAA's Space Weather Prediction Center - Today's Space Weather Updated Every 5-minutes
sdo.gsfc.nasa.gov/data/ - Latest Images from the Solar Dynamics Observatory
National Space Weather Program - The U.S. Government and Space Weather
First Gov Image + NASA Privacy Policy and Important Notices
+ Visit Solar Terrestrial Probes Program
+ Visit Living With a Star Program
NASA Logo Image Author: Dr. David H. Hathaway, david.hathaway @ nasa.gov
Curator: Mitzi Adams, mitzi.adams @ nasa.gov

Last Updated: August 11, 2014