The Earth and Heliosphere – Brief





How do the Earth and Heliosphere respond?

Our planet is immersed in this seemingly invisible yet exotic and inherently dangerous environment. Above the protective cocoon of Earth’s lower atmosphere is a plasma soup composed of electrified and magnetized matter entwined with penetrating radiation and energetic particles. The Earth’s magnetic field interacts with the Sun’s outer atmosphere to create this extraordinary environment.
Our Sun’s explosive energy output forms an immense, complex magnetic fields structure. Hugely inflated by the solar wind, this colossal bubble of magnetism known as the heliosphere stretches far beyond the orbit of Pluto, from where it controls the entry of cosmic rays into the solar system. On its way through the Milky Way this extended atmosphere of the Sun affects all planetary bodies in the solar system. It is itself influenced by slowly changing interstellar conditions that in turn can affect Earth’s habitability. In fact, the Sun’s extended atmosphere drives some of the greatest changes in the near-Earth space environment affecting our magnetosphere, atmosphere, ionosphere, and potentially our climate.
Related missions:
*Sort missions by clicking Launch DateA-Z, or PHASE column headers.
DIVISION NAME LAUNCH DATE PHASE
Heliophysics ACE

Advanced Composition Explorer (ACE) observes particles of solar, interplanetary, interstellar, and galactic origins, spanning the energy range from solar wind ions to galactic cosmic ray nuclei. This mission is part of SMD’s Explorers Program. This mission is part of SMD’s …
1997082708-27-1997 3Operating
Heliophysics AIM

Aeronomy of Ice in the Mesosphere (AIM) is a mission to determine the causes of the highest altitude clouds in the Earth’s atmosphere. The number of clouds in the middle atmosphere (mesosphere) over the Earth’s poles has been increasing over …
2007042504-25-2007 3Operating
Heliophysics CINDI/CNOFS

The Coupled Ion-Neutral Dynamics Investigations (CINDI) is a mission to understand the dynamics of the Earth’s ionosphere. CINDI will provide two instruments for the Communication/Navigation Outage Forecast System (C/NOFS) satellite, a project of the United States Air Force. This mission …
2008041604-16-2008 3Operating
Heliophysics Cluster-II

Cluster is a European Space Agency program with major NASA involvement. The 4 Cluster spacecraft are providing a detailed three-dimensional map of the magnetosphere, with surprising results. This mission is part of SMD’s Heliophysics Research program.
2000071607-16-2000 3Operating
Heliophysics FAST

Fast Auroral Snapshot Explorer (FAST) studies the detailed plasma physics of the Earth’s auroral regions. Ground support campaigns coordinate satellite measurements with ground observations of the Aurora Borealis, commonly referred to as the Northern Lights. The science instruments on board …
1996082108-21-1996 4Past
Heliophysics Geotail

The GEOTAIL mission is a collaborative project undertaken by the Japanese Institute of Space and Astronautical Science (ISAS) and NASA. Its primary objective is to study the tail of the Earth’s magnetosphere. The information gathered is allowing scientists to model …
1992072407-24-1992 3Operating
Heliophysics Hinode (Solar-B)

Hinode (formerly known as Solar-B) is a Japanese ISAS mission proposed as a follow-on to the highly successful Japan/US/UK Yohkoh (Solar-A) collaboration. The mission consists of a coordinated set of optical, EUV and X-ray instruments that are studying the interaction …
2006092309-23-2006 3Operating
Heliophysics IBEX

IBEX will be the first mission designed to detect the edge of the Solar System. As the solar wind from the sun flows out beyond Pluto, it collides with the material between the stars, forming a shock front. This mission …
2008101910-19-2008 3Operating
Heliophysics MMS

The Magnetospheric Multiscale mission will determine the small-scale basic plasma processes which transport, accelerate and energize plasmas in thin boundary and current layers – and which control the structure and dynamics of the Earth’s magnetosphere. MMS will for the first …
2014081408-14-2014 2Development
Heliophysics Polar

Polar is the second of two NASA spacecraft in the Global Geospace Science (GGS) initiative and part of the ISTP Project. GGS is designed to improve greatly the understanding of the flow of energy, mass and momentum in the solar-terrestrial …
1996022402-24-1996 4Past
Heliophysics RBSP

The RBSP mission will provide scientific understanding, ideally to the point of predictability, of how populations of relativistic electrons and ions in space form and change in response to variable inputs of energy from the Sun.
2012051405-14-2012 2Development
Heliophysics RHESSI

Reuven Ramaty High Energy Solar Spectroscope Imager (RHESSI) studies solar flares in X-rays and gamma-rays. It explores the basic physics of particle acceleration and explosive energy release in these energetic events in the Sun’s atmosphere. This is accomplished by imaging …
2002020502-05-2002 3Operating
Heliophysics SOHO

Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) is a solar observatory studying the structure, chemical composition, and dynamics of the solar interior. SOHO a joint venture of the European Space Agency and NASA. This mission is part of SMD’s Heliophysics Research program.
1995120212-02-1995 3Operating
Heliophysics Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO)

The Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) is the first mission and crown jewel in a fleet of NASA missions to study our sun. The mission is the cornerstone of a NASA science program called Living With a Star (LWS). The goal …
2010021102-11-2010 3Operating
Heliophysics Solar Probe Plus

Solar Probe Plus will be a historic mission, flying into one of the last unexplored regions of the solar system, the Sun’s atmosphere or corona, for the first time. This mission is part of SMD’s LWS Program.
1Under Study
Heliophysics THEMIS

Time History of Events and Macroscale Interactions during Substorms (THEMIS) is a study of the onset of magnetic storms within the tail of the Earth’s magnetosphere. THEMIS will fly five microsatellite probes through different regions of the magnetosphere and observe …
2007021702-17-2007 3Operating
Heliophysics TRACE

Transition Region and Coronal Explorer (TRACE) observes the effects of the emergence of magnetic flux from deep inside the Sun to the outer corona with high spatial and temporal resolution. This mission is part of SMD’s Heliophysics Explorers program. This …
1998040104-01-1998 4Past
Heliophysics TWINS A & B

TWINS will provide stereo imaging of the Earth’s magnetosphere, the region surrounding the planet controlled by its magnetic field and containing the Van Allen radiation belts and other energetic charged particles. This mission is part of SMD’s Explorers Program. This …
2008031303-13-2008 3Operating
Heliophysics Ulysses

The Ulysses Mission is the first spacecraft to explore interplanetary space at high solar latitudes, orbiting the Sun nearly perpendicular to the plane in which the planets orbit. This mission is part of SMD’s Heliophysics Research program.
1990100610-06-1990 4Past
Heliophysics Wind

Wind studies the solar wind and its impact on the near-Earth environment. This mission is part of SMD’s Heliophysics Research program.
1994110111-01-1994 3Operating

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