We Follow the Sun: Science that Studies Our Star

English: An artist's rendering of the SOHO spa...

Image via Wikipedia

Astronomers everywhere were geeking out last week about Comet Lovejoy and its close-brush with oblivion.  Some folks on Twitter called it “The little comet that could”.  The satellite that took the cool images of Lovejoy’s dramatic adventures was the “Solar and Heliospheric Observatory” (SOHO) which orbits Earth’s L1 Lagrange point.

This event, along with recent news from Voyager-1, and the Mars Science Laboratory, highlights a category of space study that I’ve long wanted to talk about here called Heliospheric Science.  This research uses a group of robotic probes operated by NASA and ESA to gather data and images on our sun, the solar wind, solar flares and other activity, solar and cosmic radiation, the Sun and Earth’s magnetic fields, and how all of this interacts together to effect us here on Earth, made-made objects in space, and human space travelers.

Most of these probes don’t take cool photos that could end up on a lot of desktop wallpapers, however the research conducted with them is no less valuable.  Here is a list of these satellites, some are better known than others.  Which ones do you recognise?


Cluster-1, Cluster-2, Cluster-3, Cluster-4







Stereo-A, Stereo-B


Themis-A, Themis-B, Themis-C, Themis-D, Themis-E



Voyager-1, Voyager-2

The following YouTube video describes some of them.  You can also learn more by clicking the relevent links in Wikipedia or Google searching on some of these.

SOHO, Stereo, and Voyager are three of my personal favorites.

Of course, the best way to learn more is to get involved!  That’s right, you can become a part of Heliospheric studies by participating in a group-source project called Solar Storm Watch.  Go to http://www.solarstormwatch.com/ and go through a short training session to learn how to help scientists weed through the mountains of data collected by the twin space probes called Stereo.

Beats the daylights out of compter games! 😉

~ by Bill Housley on December 19, 2011.

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