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Working Papers: Astronomy and Astrophysics Panel Reports
major advances in our observational understanding of the corona's structure, and of the relation between heated plasma and the sites of energy release.
The outer corona merges into a heliosphere that dominates interplanetary space. The heliosphere is Earth's non-radiative connection to the Sun, and events within it are of considerable practical as well as scientific interest. Much has been learned about the structure, dynamics and physics of the heliosphere by combining in situ and indirect measurements with correlative studies of driving phenomena at the solar surface and in the lower atmosphere and corona. The same cannot be said for violent events such as coronal mass ejections that occur frequently during active times of the solar cycle -- better observations from the photosphere through the heliosphere, involving in particular coordinated in situ and remote sensing observations, are required for significant further progress.
Appropriate goals for the decade of the 1990s include localizing coronal energy release sites, understanding in detail the mechanism of solar wind acceleration and fixing the height above the surface at which it occurs, and determining how the speed of the resultant wind depends on magnetic geometry. Finally, an extremely important goal is to take advantage of the activity maximum around 1998-2002, using state-of-the-art imaging instruments at X-ray and gamma-ray energies, in order to achieve a major advance in our understanding of the basic mechanisms of solar flares, including very high energy particle acceleration.
1.2.4The Solar-Stellar Connection
It should be emphasized in this overview of solar physics that the solar-stellar connection is an important part of the physics of the Sun and the physics of stars in general. For we may safely assume that most, if not all, rotating and convecting stars would prove as active and mysterious as the Sun if we could observe them as closely. These stars do not fail to exhibit great complexity in those aspects that can be studied. As already noted, it is astonishing to see that some stars support gigantic flares and starspots. Some exhibit mass loss enormously greater than the Sun. Essentially all of them exhibit X-ray coronae, from which we may infer that their coronal gas expands along the more extended lines of force, carrying the field into space to form a stellar wind much like the solar wind. The general existence of X-ray coronae implies the same nanoflares and microflares and the same coronal transients as can now be observed on the Sun, although there is no foreseeable means for observing them individually on the distant stars. The same complex magnetohydrodynamic and plasma processes must occur. The same puzzles concerning their internal structure, their internal rotation and their dynamo confront us, except that it is not possible to come so directly to grips with these puzzles as it is for the Sun. The best that can be foreseen is to understand the Sun and then perhaps to infer the solutions for the other stars. It is essential, therefore, to study the oscillations and seismology of the other stars, to monitor their activity cycles over long terms, and to make precise measurements of their rotation rates. Only in this way can we discover their individual quirks as well as determine the "average" behavior of each class of star. The deviation of the individual from the average provides insight into the variable conditions under which stars are formed, which then helps to understand the idiosyncrasies of the Sun. Other stars of different ages may provide an idea of the Sun in its youth, to be compared with the geological record for clues to the effects on the planetary environment. The spindown of the Sun at an early age may have involved profoundly different conditions from those that obtain today. In a similar vein, it appears that the Sun occasionally passes through centuries of suppressed activity (e.g., the Maunder Minimum), and centuries of enhanced activity. The human research program cannot encompass such fundamental long-term shifts in the nature of the activity, so one must turn to the hundreds of solar-type stars to provide a record of the many different moods of the Sun in the span of a human lifetime.
Thus, as a direct by-product of obtaining the goals described above, we may anticipate corresponding great advances in our understanding of many long-standing problems of stellar physics. But beyond this "spin-off" result, it is reasonable to adopt the goal of making far more detailed studies of stellar phenomena related to those studied on the Sun, through emerging capabilities of stellar seismology, through stellar observations with new advanced ground-based and space instruments expected to be operational during the decade, and through continued monitoring of time-varying stellar magnetic activity of existing observatories.
In concluding this general appraisal of current problems in the physics of a star like the Sun, it is appropriate to make some general comments on the future beyond the listing of specific research goals as we perceive them today. Even though solar physics is sometimes thought of as a mature field, in the coming decade it may be as unpredictable and full of surprises as any astronomical discipline. The observational