Statement of Task
Background Space is filled with magnetized plasma. In its natural cosmic setting in the solar system, magnetized plasma is now known to display a set of characteristic structures and processes that in turn have characteristic modes of behavior. These structures and processes occur with vast ranges of size, duration, and energy that are self-organized into distinct classes of phenomena.
The Sun is a major source of energy and magnetized plasma in the solar system. As such, it has important connections to astrophysics and to the space environment near Earth. Four decades of space exploration have measured and recorded plasma behavior near Earth and at many solar system objects, including 7 planets, 6 satellites, 2 comets, and 2 asteroids. Other spacecraft have measured the solar wind from heliocentric pole to pole and from the orbit of Mercury to the outermost recesses of the heliosphere, recording sundry indigenous structures and processes. In addition, space-borne telescopes have revealed the Sun’s features and movements at ever more wavelengths and higher resolutions.
NASA is currently planning an ambitious program of future missions that promise to further reveal how magnetized plasmas are organized in space and how they behave. With a rich data legacy and a promising measurement future, there now exists the opportunity to foster a new disciplinary thrust in space and solar physics, one that will emphasize that the locally occurring (solar system) structures and processes also have astrophysical counterparts and are, in fact, characteristic of cosmic plasma behavior. The committee refers to this evolving branch of space and solar physics as “solar connections.”
Plan The committee will undertake a study with the following objectives:
Explicate the content of solar connections. The CSSP will outline the underlying scientific basis for contemporary solar system plasma physics, identify major outstanding scientific questions, and define the interface or links to studies of astrophysical plasmas at one extreme and the NASA Sun-Earth Connection/ Living With A Star programs on the other.
Assess the field’s current data, theory, and computational resources as they pertain to solar connections.
Recommend measures, including but not restricted to missions, to further develop the field.
To acquire background information for the report, the committee will form study groups organized around 5 themes. These themes, which may evolve over the course of the study, comprise a convenient, but not unique, scientific framework around which to structure an assessment of the key physical processes of interest. The themes are:
Creation and Annihilation of Magnetic Fields
Spontaneous Generation of Structures and Transients
Explosive Energy Conversion
Generation of Penetrating Radiation
Each study group will consist of 2-3 committee members and several experts from the science community. Each group will compile a comprehensive set of examples, structures, and processes that belong to their theme. They will then define the field’s data and theoretical/computational requirements and assess critically the field’s scientific potential. Finally, the study groups will suggest directions likely to produce the greatest advances, and note what missions, planned or as yet unplanned, are needed to promote the advancement.
In generating its report, the full committee will draw upon the findings and recommendations of the study groups. In addition to defining the content of solar connections, the report will evaluate planned NASA missions in terms of their relevance to solar connections. Where necessary, the committee will also recommend additional missions or priorities. In particular, the committee will critically evaluate the SEC plan and identify areas where enhanced theoretical-computational emphasis is needed to properly support the solar-connections effort.