NASA's Heliophysics Gallery

The Sun is a major influence on the Earth's weather and climate. The focus of NASA's Sun-Solar System Connection is to understand this relationship from the perspective of the entire system.

You can find out more by visiting the Heliophysics Page, the NASA Living with a Star program, and the Solar-Terrestrial Probe web site.

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News of the Heliosphere!

Recent Releases

Here are visualization products we've recently released.
  • Radiation Belts & the Plasmapause
    The near-Earth space enviroment is a complex interaction between Earth's magnetic field, cool plasma moving up from Earth's ionosphere, and hotter plasma coming in from the solar wind. This interactions combine to maintain the radiation belts around Earth. Plasma interactions can generate sharply delineated regions in these belts. In addition to the inner and outer radiation belts, the cooler plasma of the plasmasphere interacts so that it keeps out the higher-energy electrons from outside its boundary (called the plasmapause). In this visualization, the radiation belts (rainbow-color) and plasmapause (blue-green surface) surround Earth, its structure largely determined by Earth's dipole magnetic field (represented by cyan curved lines). The radiation belt is sliced open, simultaneously revealing representative confined charged particles spiraling around the magnetic field structure. Yellow particles represent negative-charged electrons, blue particles represent positive-charged ions. However, if realistically scaled for particle mass and energies, the spiral motion would not be visible at this distance so particle masses and size scales are adjusted to make them visible. The inner blue-green plasmapause boundary is then sliced open to reveal more of the inner structure of the radiation belts, including the innermost belt.
  • Carrington-Class CME of 2012
    The BIG coronal mass ejection that missed Earth.
  • All Eyes on X-flares!
    A multitude of ground and space-based instruments obtain extraordinary coverage of an X-class flare.
  • IBEX Maps Solar System's Tail
    NASA’s Interstellar Boundary Explorer, or IBEX, recently mapped the boundaries of the solar system’s tail, called the heliotail. By combining observations from the first three years of IBEX imagery, scientists have mapped out a tail that shows a combination of fast and slow moving particles. The entire structure twisted, because it experiences the pushing and pulling of magnetic fields outside the solar system.

    To view this video on YouTube, click here.

New Heliophysics Missions

NASA Heliophysics Resources

We live in an exciting environment: the heliosphere, the exotic outer atmosphere of a star. The heliosphere is an immense magnetic bubble that extends well beyond the orbit of Pluto. This bubble contains our solar system, solar wind, and the entire solar magnetic field. The heliosphere is also the one part of the cosmos accessible to direct scientific investigation; our only hands-on astrophysical laboratory. As our society becomes ever more dependent on technology, we are increasingly susceptible to space weather disturbances in this tumultuous region. We call the study of the connections between the sun and the solar system, Heliophysics.'

The Missions

  • Sentinels of the Heliosphere
    Heliophysics is a term to describe the study of the Sun, its atmosphere or the heliosphere, and the planets within it as a system. As a result, it encompasses the study of planetary atmospheres and their magnetic environment, or magnetospheres. These environments are important in the study of space weather. As a society dependent on technology, both in everyday life, and as part of our economic growth, space weather becomes increasingly important. Changes in space weather, either by solar events or geomagnetic events, can disrupt and even damage power grids and satellite communications. Space weather events can also generate x-rays and gamma-rays, as well as particle radiations, that can jeopardize the lives of astronauts living and working in space. This visualization tours the regions of near-Earth orbit; the Earth's magnetosphere, sometimes called geospace; the region between the Earth and the Sun; and finally out beyond Pluto, where Voyager 1 and 2 are exploring the boundary between the Sun and the rest of our Milky Way galaxy. Along the way, we see these regions patrolled by a fleet of satellites that make up NASA's Heliophysics Observatory Telescopes. Many of these spacecraft do not take images in the conventional sense but record fields, particle energies and fluxes in situ. Many of these missions are operated in conjunction with international partners, such as the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Japanese Space Agency (JAXA). The Earth and distances are to scale. Larger objects are used to represent the satellites and other planets for clarity. Here are the spacecraft featured in this movie:

    Near-Earth Fleet:

    • Hinode: Observes the Sun in multiple wavelengths up to x-rays. SVS page
    • RHESSI : Observes the Sun in x-rays and gamma-rays. SVS page
    • TRACE: Observes the Sun in visible and ultraviolet wavelengths. SVS page
    • TIMED: Studies the upper layers (40-110 miles up) of the Earth's atmosphere.
    • FAST: Measures particles and fields in regions where aurora form.
    • CINDI: Measures interactions of neutral and charged particles in the ionosphere.
    • AIM: Images and measures noctilucent clouds. SVS page

    Geospace Fleet:

    • Geotail: Conducts measurements of electrons and ions in the Earth's magnetotail.
    • Cluster: This is a group of four satellites which fly in formation to measure how particles and fields in the magnetosphere vary in space and time. SVS page
    • THEMIS: This is a fleet of five satellites to study how magnetospheric instabilities produce substorms. SVS page

    L1 Fleet:

    The L1 point is a Lagrange Point, a point between the Earth and the Sun where the gravitational pull is approximately equal. Spacecraft can orbit this location for continuous coverage of the Sun.
    • SOHO: Studies the Sun with cameras and a multitude of other instruments. SVS page
    • ACE: Measures the composition and characteristics of the solar wind.
    • Wind: Measures particle flows and fields in the solar wind.

    Heliospheric Fleet

    • STEREO-A and B: These two satellites observe the Sun, with imagers and particle detectors, off the Earth-Sun line, providing a 3-D view of solar activity. SVS page

    Heliopause Fleet

    • Voyager 1 and 2: These spacecraft conducted the original 'Planetary Grand Tour' of the solar system in the 1970s and 1980s. They have now travelled further than any human-built spacecraft and are still returning measurements of the interplanetary medium. SVS page
    This enhanced, narrated visualization was shown at the SIGGRAPH 2009 Computer Animation Festival in New Orleans, LA in August 2009; an eariler version created for AGU was called NASA's Heliophysics Observatories Study the Sun and Geospace.

Selected Keywords & Series

Mesosphere to Heliopause