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.
  • SOHO Approaches 3000 Comet Discoveries
    A listing of all the visualizations showing SOHO and its discovery of comets.
  • Solar Eclipse 2017
    During the solar eclipse on August 21, 2017, the Moon's shadow will pass over all of North America. The path of the umbra, where the eclipse is total, stretches from Salem, Oregon to Charleston, South Carolina. This will be the first total solar eclipse visible in the contiguous United States in 38 years.
  • MMS Spacecraft transition to Formation Flying
    In the latter half of July 2015, the four satellites of the Magnetosphere Multi-scale (MMS) mission move into their tetrahedral formation flying configuration as part of the checkout for the science phase of the mission. During this phase, the four spacecraft will have their orbits adjusted to eventually bring them to within about ten kilometers of each other .
  • A Slice of Light: How IRIS Observes the Sun
    The Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph (IRIS) explorer is one of the latest imaging spectrographs developed for NASA missions, this one designed for exploring the energization process in the solar chromosphere at higher resolution than previously possible. An imaging spectrograph not only takes an image of the region of interest, but also has a small slit in the imager (seen as a dark line about half-way across the image) which passes a thin ribbon of light to a spectroscope. The spectroscope spreads the light out in its component frequencies or spectrum. Monitoring of specfic spectral lines provides additional information on the velocity (and therefore temperature) of plasma in the observed region. In the visualization presented here, the IRIS slit-jaw imager (SJI) takes images with two different filters, one at 1330 Angstroms (gold color table), the other at 1400 Angstroms (bronze color table), and these images are displayed overlaying corresponding imagery from the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) 304 Angstrom filter (grayscale). The spectra, in this case a closeup view on the 1403 Angstrom line from 3-times ionized silicon (designated Si IV), is presented on a semi-transparent plane perpendicular to the images, at the position of the slit in the imager. This allows us to see correlations between features in the images and spectra. For example, some of the bright spots in the image correlate to wider regions along the line suggesting higher temperatures and/or velocities of the plasma emitting the spectral line. To better examine the region, the instrument also scans the slit over the region of interest, collecting multiple spectra. This allows scientists to compare and correlate structures seen in images with speeds and temperatures of the plasma. Imaging spectrographs have been flown on other NASA missions, such as the STIS instrument on the Hubble space telescope.
  • The 2015 Earth-Orbiting Heliophysics Fleet
    There've been a few changes since the 2013 Earth-Orbiting Heliophysics Fleet. As of Spring of 2015, here's a tour of the NASA Near-Earth Heliophysics fleet, covering the space from near-Earth orbit out to the orbit of the Moon.

    The satellite orbits are color coded for their observing program:

    • Magenta: TIM (Thermosphere, Ionosphere, Mesosphere) observations
    • Yellow: solar observations and imagery
    • Cyan: Geospace and magnetosphere
    • Violet: Heliospheric observations

    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
    • TIMED: Studies the upper layers (40-110 miles up) of the Earth's atmosphere.
    • CINDI: Measures interactions of neutral and charged particles in the ionosphere.
    • SORCE: Monitors solar intensity across a broad range of the electromagnetic spectrum.
    • AIM: Images and measures noctilucent clouds. SVS page
    • Van Allen Probes: Two probes moving along the same orbit esigned to study the impact of space weather on Earth's radiation belts. SVS page
    • TWINS: Two Wide-Angle Imaging Neutral-Atom Spectrometers (TWINS) are two probes observing the Earth with neutral atom imagers.
    • IRIS: Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph is designed to take high-resolution spectra and images of the region between the solar photosphere and solar atmosphere.

    Geosynchronous Fleet:

    • SDO: Solar Dynamics Observatory keeps the Sun under continuous observation at 16 megapixel resolution.

    Geospace Fleet:

    Lunar Orbiting Fleet

    • ARTEMIS: Two of the THEMIS satellites were moved into lunar orbit to study the interaction of the Earth's magnetosphere with the Moon.
    Major changes with earlier versions:
    • MMS added
    • GOES satellites removed
    • Cluster satellites removed
    • Camera moves around the night-side of Earth
    • .
  • 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