The decade 2003-2013 was a time of significant progress in all areas of solar and space physics. New spacecraft—such as the Van Allen probes, which discovered a third radiation belt—joined old spacecraft—like the venerable Voyagers, which continue to revolutionize our understanding of the solar system’s edge—in an expanding and broadly capable research fleet. New observatories—such as the Solar Dynamics Observatory and the Advanced Modular Incoherent Scatter Radar in Alaska—vastly improved the spatial and temporal resolution with which we study the Sun-Earth environment.
Highlights from the past decade include new insights into the variability of the mechanisms that generate the Sun’s magnetic field; a new understanding of the unexpectedly deep minimum in solar activity; significant progress in understanding the origin and evolution of the solar wind; striking advances in understanding of both explosive solar flares and the coronal mass ejections that drive space weather; and new imaging methods that permit direct observations of the space weather-driven changes in the particles and magnetic fields surrounding Earth and similar advances in remotely sensing the boundaries of the heliosphere; new understanding of the ways that space storms are fueled by oxygen originating in Earth’s own atmosphere; and the surprising discovery that conditions in near-Earth space are linked strongly to the terrestrial weather and climate below.
Enabled by implementation of the program recommended in the 2013-2022 decadal survey, the coming decade of discovery promises potentially transformative scientific progress as researchers are poised to probe universal physical processes, to understand the complex dynamics of our home in the solar system, and to apply this understanding to forecast the threats posed to technological infrastructures by space weather events.
Advances Expected From Implementation of the Existing Program
- The Magnetospheric Multiscale mission (MMS) will provide the first high-resolution, three-dimensional measurements of magnetic reconnection in Earth’s magnetosphere.
- Solar Probe Plus (SPP) will be the first spacecraft to enter the lower reaches of the Sun’s atmosphere, repeatedly sampling coronal particles and fields to understand coronal heating, solar wind acceleration, and the formation and transport of energetic solar particles.
- The 4-meter Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope (formerly the Advanced Technology Solar Telescope) will resolve structures on the Sun as small as 20 km, revealing new dynamics of magnetic fields.
- Continued operation of the Heliophysics System Observatory will provide essential simultaneous observations from distributed vantage points of this highly interconnected system.
Advances Expected From New Programs and Missions
- The DRIVE initiative will greatly strengthen our ability to accomplish innovative observational, theoretical, numerical, modeling, and technological advances.
- A new funding line for mid-size projects at the National Science Foundation will facilitate long-recommended ground-based projects, such as FASR and COSMO, by closing the programmatic funding gap between large and small programs.
- Solar and space physicists will accomplish high-payoff, timely science goals with a revitalized Explorer program, including Missions of Opportunity.
- The notional Interstellar Mapping and Acceleration Probe (IMAP), in conjunction with the twin Voyager spacecraft, will better resolve the interaction between the heliosphere—our home in space— and the interstellar medium.
- The notional Dynamical Neutral Atmosphere-Ionosphere Coupling (DYNAMIC) mission’s two identical orbiting observatories will clarify the complex variability and structure in near-Earth plasma that is driven by lower atmospheric wave energy.
- The notional Geospace Dynamics Constellation (GDC) will provide the first simultaneous, multipoint observations of how the ionosphere-thermosphere system responds to, and regulates, magnetospheric forcing over local and global scales.
- A National Space Weather Program, re-chartered at a level of the federal government appropriate for strategic support and coordination, will bring agencies together to ensure continuity of measurements and improve space weather forecasting.