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Solar Science - Exploring the power of our closest star Photo of solar eclipse
More than a million Earths could fit inside the sun, yet by star standards, our sun is only considered a "yellow dwarf." Its impact on our planet is irrefutable. Solar winds spark the Aurora Borealis and Aurora Australis in Earth's atmosphere. The sun's magnetic fields and atmosphere--specifically its corona--fuel space weather that affects Earth's power grids and communications systems. And the sun's undeniable power increasingly has become a power source for this planet as well. It's because of these connections and more that the National Science Foundation (NSF) funds a broad array of research connected to the sun, our nearest star, and is building what will be the biggest, most powerful solar telescope in the world. The Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope (DKIST) will go online in early 2020.

Corona eclipse

 

The Great American Solar Eclipse

On August 21, 2017, the U.S. will be treated to its own solar eclipse--a total solar eclipse that wends its way mid-day over 90 minutes from Oregon to South Carolina. While only those in that direct path will see a total eclipse, the rest of the country will see some version of a partial solar eclipse during that time frame as well. Read more.

Solar activity/sunspot cycle graphic

 

Space Weather

NSF sponsors research that monitors the development of sun spots, flares and coronal mass ejections to better understand how and when these phenomena impact the sun's magnetic field that, in turn, can wreak havoc on the Earth's power grids, satellites and other communications systems. Read more.

Solar panels

 

Solar Energy: Harnessing the sun's power

Solar panels and solar cells have become increasingly prevalent. But drawbacks to solar power remain. NSF-funded material scientists, engineers, physicists, mathematicians and computer scientists all play a role in moving this technology forward so that solar power can flourish and most effectively augment other energy sources in the future. Read more.

Solar flare

 

Plasma Physics

One of the sun's biggest mysteries is why its corona (the upper level of the sun's atmosphere) is hotter than its surface. This isn't just about understanding the sun. The corona is made of plasma, and many believe the answer has to do with plasma physics. No surprise, NSF-funded researchers are looking into this issue and many other plasma physics issues that surround our sun. Read more.

Solar telescope exterior

 

Tools

To study the fundamentals of solar science, one needs the right tools. NSF sponsors the National Solar Observatory (NSO), which operates some of the world's preeminent solar telescopes. In early 2020, solar physicists will take their research to the next level when the world's biggest, most powerful solar telescope goes online: NSF's DKIST in Maui, Hawaii.

Additionally, NSF supports the National Center for Atmospheric Research and its High-Altitude Observatory, which gathers data specifically to improve our understanding of the connection between our nearest star and the highest reaches of our Earth's atmosphere. Read more.

Image captions and credits >>

 

 


Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations presented in this material are only those of the presenter grantee/researcher, author, or agency employee; and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.