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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:

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DivisionNameLaunch DatePhase
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 ...
19970825 August 25, 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 ...
20070425 April 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 ...
20080416 April 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.
20000716 July 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 ...
19960821 August 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 ...
19920724 July 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 ...
20060923 September 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 ...
20081019 October 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 ...
20150312 March 2015 3Operating
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 ...
19960224 February 24, 1996 4Past
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 ...
20020205 February 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.
19951202 December 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 ...
20100211 February 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.
20180708 July 2018 2Development
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 ...
20070217 February 17, 2007 3Operating
Heliophysics TRACE
Transition Region and Coronal Explorer (TRACE) observed 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 was part of SMD's Heliophysics Explorers program. This ...
19980401 April 01, 1998 4Past
Heliophysics Ulysses
The Ulysses Mission was 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 was part of SMD's Heliophysics Research program.
19901006 October 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.
19941101 November 01, 1994 3Operating