All the planets, moons, and smaller things in the solar system are just dust, compared to the star that they orbit; the Sun contains 99.9% of the mass of the solar system. We think of it as our source of light, but it doesn't just emit photons. The solar wind blasts fast-moving electrons, protons, and highly ionized atoms in all directions, a constant stream punctuated by ferocious coronal mass ejections. The solar wind carries with it a magnetic field wound into a tight spiral by the Sun's rotation.
The solar wind pushes outward against the interstellar medium, penning the solar system inside a bubble called the "heliosphere" that's at least 200 AU across. The twin Voyager spacecraft are now probing the heliosphere's edges. Closer to home, a fleet of spacecraft monitors the space weather generated by the Sun, warning us of its effects on Earth, from the benevolent (aurorae) to the potentially disastrous (irradiation of astronauts and damage to communications satellites and power grids). Currently operating solar space observatories include ACE, GGS, WIND, Hinode, PICARD, RHESSI, SOHO, SDO, Solar Monitoring Observatory, and STEREO.
Latest Blog Entries about the Sun, Heliosphere, and Space Weather
Posted by Jason Davis on 2012/01/26 05:26 CST
Before automated space observatories like SDO could send pictures and videos of solar phenomenon in real-time, humans had to do it manually, as in the case of the groundbreaking Skylab space station missions, which featured the Apollo Telescope Mount.
Unless you are lucky and healthy enough to live for another 105 years, tomorrow will be your last chance to see a Venus transit from the surface of the Earth. But this need not be the last transit of Venus that you will ever see.
Fifteen years ago, Society members and passionate space advocates like you helped save the Pluto mission. Now we can do the same for missions to Europa and Mars.
Join over 27,600 people who have completed their petition and consider a donation to support advocacy efforts.