NASA's Heliophysics Gallery

The Sun is a major influence on 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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Recent Releases

Check out the latest media we have released relating to the Sun. Want to see more? View our full listing of Sun-related material.
  • Strong Winds Power Electric Fields in the Upper Atmosphere
    2021.11.29
    Using observations from NASA’s ICON mission, scientists presented the first direct measurements of Earth’s long-theorized dynamo on the edge of space: a wind-driven electrical generator that spans the globe 60-plus miles above our heads. The dynamo churns in the ionosphere, the electrically charged boundary between Earth and space. It’s powered by tidal winds in the upper atmosphere that are faster than most hurricanes and rise from the lower atmosphere, creating an electrical environment that can affect satellites and technology on Earth. The new work, published today in Nature Geoscience, improves our understanding of the ionosphere, which helps scientists better predict space weather and protect our technology from its effects. More information: https://www.nasa.gov/feature/goddard/2021/strong-winds-power-electric-fields-in-upper-atmosphere-icon/
  • ICON Snaps a Peek at the Ionospheric Dynamo
    2021.11.29
    As one rises through the turbulent atmosphere of Earth, the density of the air decreases and winds become faster. From above, solar radiation as visible and ultraviolet light, along with energetic particles, rain down on the atmospheric gases splitting electrically neutral atoms and molecules into ions and free electrons. This process forms the high-altitude atmospheric region we call the ionosphere. The charged particles formed here interact with Earth's magnetic field to form more complex structures, such as equatorial ionization anomaly (EIA) also known as the Appleton anomaly formed by a process called the equatorial fountain. These interactions drive a process called the ionospheric dynamo. But these high-altitude winds are not uniform. They are often altered by weather changes in the lower-altitude atmosphere, and this can drive changes in the particle motion high in the ionosphere. The ICON satellite has instruments that measure charged particle motion though the region it travels (Ion Velocity Meter or IVM), and also winds on the limb of Earth (measured by MIGHTI). Sometimes these two regions are connected by a magnetic field line and we can actually 'see' how a change in lower altitude winds can drive a change in the high altitude charged particle motions. In the visualizations above, this process takes place between the 01:52 and 01:56 timestamp, highlighted with yellow magnetic field lines. We see the wind speed (green arrows on the left) change direction and switch the charged particle flow measured at the spacecraft (red arrows) from upward to downward.
  • Active October Sun Emits X-class Flare
    2021.10.28
    The Sun emitted a significant solar flare peaking at 11:35 a.m. EDT on Oct. 28, 2021. NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, which watches the Sun constantly, captured an image of the event. Solar flares are powerful bursts of radiation. Harmful radiation from a flare cannot pass through Earth’s atmosphere to physically affect humans on the ground, however — when intense enough — they can disturb the atmosphere in the layer where GPS and communications signals travel. To see how such space weather may affect Earth, please visit NOAA's Space Weather Prediction Center http://spaceweather.gov/, the U.S. government’s official source for space weather forecasts, watches, warnings, and alerts. NASA works as the research arm of the nation’s space weather effort. NASA observes the Sun and our space environment constantly with a fleet of spacecraft that study everything from the Sun’s activity to the solar atmosphere, and to the particles and magnetic fields in the space surrounding Earth. This flare is classified as an X1.0-class flare. X-class denotes the most intense flares, while the number provides more information about its strength. An X2 is twice as intense as an X1, an X3 is three times as intense, etc. Flares that are classified X10 or stronger are considered unusually intense. Earlier in the week, from late-afternoon on October 25th through mid-morning on the 26th, a different active region on the Sun gave a show of small flares and eruptions of plasma.
  • With NASA Data, Researchers Find Standing Waves at Edge of Earth’s Magnetic Bubble
    2021.10.06
    Earth sails the solar system in a ship of its own making: the magnetosphere, the magnetic field that envelops and protects our planet. The celestial sea we find ourselves in is filled with charged particles flowing from the Sun, known as the solar wind. Just as ocean waves follow the wind, scientists expected that waves traveling along the magnetosphere should ripple in the direction of the solar wind. But a new study reveals some waves do just the opposite. Studying these magnetospheric waves, which transport energy, helps scientists understand the complicated ways that solar activity plays out in the space around Earth. Changing conditions in space driven by the Sun are known as space weather. That weather can impact our technology from communications satellites in orbit to power lines on the ground. “Understanding the boundaries of any system is a key problem,” said Martin Archer, a space physicist at Imperial College London who led the new study, published today in Nature Communications. “That’s how stuff gets in: energy, momentum, matter.”
  • Goddard Space Flight Center Virtual Tour
    2021.09.16
    NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, is one of the few space organizations that can manage a mission from beginning to end: imagine it, build it, test it, launch it and reap the scientific benefits. Come take a behind-the-scenes look at our facilities and meet some of the people who are working every day to make the impossible possible.

    Music Credit:

    After Party by Morgan Prudhomme [ SACEM ] Publishers KTSA Publishing [ SACEM ]

    Riviera by Armand Falco [ SACEM ] Khatchadour Babelian [ SACEM ] Publishers KTSA Publishing [ SACEM ]

    Digtal Dreamscape by Josselin Bordat [ SACEM ] Publishers Koka Media [ SACEM ] Universal Production Music France [ SACEM ]

    Up On the Mountain by Bruce Driscoll [ BMI ] Marie Seyrat [ BMI ] Publishers Killer Tracks [ BMI ]

    Natural Time Cycles by Laurent Dury [ SACEM ] Publishers Koka Media [ SACEM ] Universal Production Music France [ SACEM ]

    Summertime Chill by Xavier Rubin [ SACEM ] Publishers Koka Media [ SACEM ] Universal Production Music France [ SACEM ]

    Space Age Bachelor by Benjamin James Parsons [ PRS ] Publishers Sound Pocket Music [ PRS ]

  • Riding Along With a NASA Sounding Rocket (2021)
    2021.09.15
    On Sept. 9, 2021, a sounding rocket launched from the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, carrying a copy of the Extreme Ultraviolet Variability Experiment, or EVE. This flight was used to calibrate the identical version of EVE that has flown in space since 2010 aboard NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO). Over the years, the space-based EVE has become degraded by intense sunlight, so scientists fly periodic calibration missions to keep EVE’s measurements sharp.
  • Explore Auroras
    2021.09.01
    Infographics and source components explaining auroras. PDF versions suitable for printing are linked below.
  • Comparing Atomic Oxygen Emission Observed by GOLD with Ionospheric Total Electron Content (TEC)
    2021.08.30
    Here we compare the enhanced ionospheric emission by atomic oxygen (OI at 135.6nm) observed by the GOLD instrument (right panel) with measured total electron content (TEC, Wikipedia) measured through the NAVSTAR GPS system (left panel). The oxygen emission and TEC are both enhanced in two bands known as the Equatorial Ionization Anomaly (EIA) or Appleton anomaly, that straddle Earth's geomagnetic equator. The Appleton anomaly is formed by a process known as the Equatorial Fountain. This visualization illustrates the motion of these bands on a global scale over a time scale of a few hours, a capability not available until the GOLD mission.
  • Operating and Future Science fleet
    2021.08.30
    NASA Science missions circle the Earth, the Sun, the Moon, Mars, and many other destinations within our Solar System, including spacecraft that look out even further into our universe. The Science Fleet depicts the scope of NASA’s activity and how our missions have permeated throughout the solar system.
  • Space Weather Infographics
    2021.08.25
    Multiple infographics illustrating the science and impact of space weather.
  • Plasma Waves
    2021.08.25
    Locator graphic for plasma waves in the magnetosphere
  • Aging (Instruments) in Space
    2021.07.23
    The space environment is harsh not only on humans and other living organisms, but instruments also. Damage from solar energetic particles and cosmic rays can slowly degrade performance of an instrument. Fortunately there are ways to characterize and correct for this degradation. The graphics on this page are based on the tutorial AIApy: Modeling Channel Degradation over Time.
    After almost a year of operations, there is already a suggestion of a change in instrument response. Here we have AIA 304 data with the color table applied to the raw data (above) and the recalibrated data (below).
    Three years later, there is a much more noticeable difference in the calibrated vs. uncalibrated imagery. Another seven years and the difference is really difficult to miss.

Missions - Operational

  • Heliophysics Fleet Visualizations
    List
    Visualizations of the fleet of NASA's Heliophysics missions as it changes over the years from 2012 to the present.
  • Solar Orbiter
    Gallery
    As the main driver of space weather, it is essential to understand the behavior of the Sun to learn how to better safeguard our planet, space technology and astronauts. Solar Orbiter will study the Sun, its outer atmosphere and what drives the constant outflow of solar wind which affects Earth. The spacecraft will observe the Sun's atmosphere up close with high spatial resolution telescopes and compare these observations to measurements taken in the environment directly surrounding the spacecraft – together creating a one-of-a-kind picture of how the Sun can affect the space environment throughout the solar system.
  • Parker Solar Probe
    Gallery
    Parker Solar Probe will swoop to within four million miles of the Sun's surface, facing heat and radiation like no spacecraft before it. Launching in 2018, Parker Solar Probe will provide new data on solar activity and make critical contributions to our ability to forecast major space-weather events that impact life on Earth.
  • Interface to Space (ICON & GOLD)
    Gallery
    The ionosphere is layer of the upper atmosphere (60-1000 km up) where the neutral atoms and molecules of the lower atmosphere transition to the plasma of space.
  • SDO
    Gallery
    The Solar Dynamics Observatory, or SDO, is a geosynchronous-orbiting satellite designed to help us understand the Sun’s influence on Earth by studying the solar atmosphere. SDO’s goal is to understand, driving towards a predictive capability, the dynamic solar activity that drives conditions in near-Earth space, called space weather. SDO observations help us explain where the Sun's energy comes from, how the inside of the Sun works, and how the Sun’s atmosphere stores and releases energy in dramatic eruptions.

    Every twelve seconds, SDO images the Sun in ten wavelengths of ultraviolet light. Each wavelength reveals different solar features and is assigned a unique color. Every image is eight times the resolution of HD video. From dark coronal holes or bright active regions on the solar surface to immense eruptions and flares that lash out millions of miles above the surface, SDO looks far into the Sun’s blazing atmosphere.

  • THEMIS
    Gallery
    THEMIS (Time History of Events and Macroscale Interactions during Substorms) was launched in 2007 as five identical satellites for measuring the magnetic and plasma environment around Earth. After completing their prime mission, two THEMIS satellites were maneuvered into orbit around the Moon to study the lunar enviroment in a mission known as THEMIS-ARTEMIS.

Missions - Historical

Space Weather

Flares and CMEs and Auroras, Oh My!
  • Solar Wind
    List
    The steady outflow of particles from the solar surface.
  • Sunspots
    Gallery
    Large cooler regions on the solar photosphere where magnetic flux is concentrated.
  • Solar Flares
    Gallery
    Magnetic eruptions above the solar photosphere that emit x-rays and particles.
  • Coronal Mass Ejections
    List
    Large eruptions of particles from the Sun
  • Magnetosphere
    List
    The magnetic 'bubble' surrounding Earth, and some other planets.
  • Aurora
    Gallery
    The Northern & Southern lights, created by the interaction of the solar wind and Earth's magnetosphere with the atmosphere.
  • Space Weather Modeling
    Gallery

    Energetic events on the Sun can have dramatic impact on Earth and its magnetosphere. These natural events can have significant effects on Earth and space-based technologies that can cause anything from inconveniences (such as minor communications and power disruptions) to high-impact events that have significant political and economic implications (outages of large sections of the electrical power grid and other support infrastructure).

    To better meet these challenges, mathematical models of the heliospheric and geospace environment are under development to better forecast these solar energetic events and their impacts on Earth.

Solar Science

Studying the Sun itself.
  • The Dynamic Solar Magnetic Field
    2016.01.29
    While the sun is well known as the overwhelming source of visible light in our solar system, a substantial part of its influence is driven by some aspects less visible to human perception - the magnetic field.
  • The Solar Cycle
    Gallery
    Solar Cycle 25 has begun. The Solar Cycle 25 Prediction Panel announced solar minimum occurred in December 2019, marking the transition into a new solar cycle. In a press event, experts from the panel, NASA, and NOAA discussed the analysis and Solar Cycle 25 prediction, and how the rise to the next solar maximum and subsequent upswing in space weather will impact our lives and technology on Earth.

Heliosphere

That not-so-empty space between the solar corona and the boundary of interstellar space.

Magnetospheres

The magnetic fields of small and large bodies around the solar system alter the space plasma near that body.

Ionosphere, Thermosphere, Mesosphere (ITM)

Interesting physics occurs at the boundary layers between the electrically neutral atmospheres of planets and the plasma of space.

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.'
  • Sounding Rockets
    Gallery
    For over 40 years, NASA's Sounding Rocket Program has provided critical scientific, technical, and educational contributions to the nation's space program and is one of the most robust, versatile, and cost-effective flight programs at NASA.
  • Mercury Transit May 2016
    Gallery
    On Monday, May 9, 2016, Mercury will transit across the sun. This rare event will begin at 7:11 AM EDT and will continue for more than seven hours. NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory will watch this transit from start to finish, ultra high definition images of the event in near real time as it unfolds. This is the first time SDO has captured this transit, which hasn't occurred since 2006. It won't occur again until 2019. NASA Scientists use the transit method to learn more about planets both in our solar system and beyond. Scientists can monitor the brightness of stars, looking for dips in that brightness that signal a transiting planet. Using the transit method, scientists can determine the distance of these planets from their stars, as well as their size and composition. Upcoming missions like the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite will use the transit method to search for planets orbiting nearby stars.
  • 2012 Venus Transit
    Gallery
    This gallery contains visuals in support of the June 5, 2012 transit of Venus across the solar disk.
  • Heliophysics Fleet
    Gallery
    Orbits and trajectories of many missions observing the Sun and the near-Earth environment.
  • SDO Anniversary Series
    2017.06.02
    The sun is always changing and NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory is always watching. Launched on Feb. 11, 2010, SDO keeps a 24-hour eye on the entire disk of the sun, with a prime view of the graceful dance of solar material coursing through the sun's atmosphere, the corona.
  • SDO 4k Slow-rotation Sun Resource Page
    2017.06.02
    SDO, the Solar Dynamics Observatory, images the entire sun at 4096x4096 resolution in multiple wavelengths every 12 seconds. The selection below represents some of the best options for full-disk slow rotation. The 4k content is available for download as frame sequences, and, in some cases, as ProRes video. These files are large and will take a long time to download.
  • Sun News
    Gallery
    Solar flares! CMEs! The Really Big Images from Solar Dynamics Observatory! Get them here!

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