You probably heard NASA’s name come up several times during the coverage about the so-called “CRomnibus” funding bill that made its way through Congress a couple of weeks ago. While many media outlets highlighted the sizable increase of $530 million that NASA received, it’s important to note that those funds were increases over the FY15 request, not the current (FY14) budget. Continue reading
So, now that we know that heliophysics plays such an important role in our everyday lives, we are brought to a simple, but fundamental question that we need to understand if we’re going to truly understand the Sun-Earth connection: “What is the Sun?“
From Encyclopædia Britannica, “sun” is defined as “star around which Earth and the other components of the solar system revolve“. Okay, sounds right, but then what exactly is a star? Again from Encyclopædia Britannica, “star“ is “any massive self-luminous celestial body of gas that shines by radiation derived from its internal energy sources“. So, putting those two definitions together we could say that the Sun is “the massive self-luminous celestial body of gas that shines by radiation derived from its internal energy sources around which Earth and the other components of the solar system revolve“.
As society’s dependence on space-based technology increases, it becomes more crucial that we better understand the dynamics and processes that govern the environment around Earth. The Sun accounts for 98% of the mass and a vast majority of the energy in the solar system, so most of the physics of our solar system is driven by the physics of our local star. Although it’s sometimes broadly referred to as “space physics” or “space science”, the discipline that studies the science of the Sun is known as “heliophysics“. This broad term includes everything from the study of the Sun itself to the constantly streaming solar wind to the interaction of the Sun with the Earth and other planets. It also includes the study of the magnetic fields and atmospheres of our planet and others. Heliophysics brings together solar, magnetospheric, ionospheric, and atmospheric physics and overlaps with astrophysics, earth and planetary science, and plasma and nuclear physics.