Honoring the Father of Heliophysics

I recently had the honor of giving the laureate lecture on behalf of Eugene “Gene” Parker, winner of the Crafoord Prize in Astronomy. It was one of the biggest moments of my career. It was also one of the hardest.

Photo of Nicky Fox presenting the laureate lecture on behalf of Eugene Parker
NASA’s Heliophysics Division Director Nicola Fox presented the Crafoord Prize laureate lecture on behalf of Eugene Parker in Lund, Sweden, in April 2020. Photo credit: Michelle Loh

Gene received the award in 2020 “for pioneering and fundamental studies of the solar wind and magnetic fields from stellar to galactic scales,” however, due to the pandemic, the official prize ceremony in Lund, Sweden, was postponed for two years. Since Gene was unable to travel, a special ceremony at Gene’s home was hosted by the University of Chicago in November 2021 where I presented him with the Crafoord medal.

Photo of Nicky Fox with Gene Parker and the Crafoord Medal
NASA’s Heliophysics Division Director Nicola Fox presented Eugene Parker the Crafoord medal at a ceremony hosted by the University of Chicago in his home in November 2021. Photo Credit: Noah Loh

Gene was a remarkable man and I knew him personally, which should have made talking about him during the public lecture easier. During his time as a scientist, he authored four books and more than 400 scientific peer-reviewed papers – many as the sole author. He also won a host of awards and honors, including the prestigious and coveted Crafoord Prize.

The Crafoord Prize is the highest honor awarded in the field of astronomy. It is the Nobel Prize equivalent for the field and carries with it a cash prize of over $600,000.

Known as the father of heliophysics, Gene’s discoveries are foundational to what we know about space weather and how stars behave. His level of brilliance is rare – you see it once, maybe twice, in a lifetime, if you’re lucky. He described the discovery of the solar wind as “simple.” It was derived from just four lines of algebra.

Gene’s passing on March 15, 2022, made the assignment of giving the lecture on his behalf even harder. I lost a friend and mentor, Gene’s family lost a husband and father, and humanity lost a legend.

Two photos of Nicky Fox and Eric Parker
NASA’s Heliophysics Division Director Nicola Fox is pictured here with Eugene Parker’s son, Eric Parker at the 2022 Crafoord Symposium. Photo credit: Michelle Loh/Susan Parker

Since I knew Gene personally, it should have made talking about him easier. How exactly does one describe the person that discovered the solar wind and changed the course of astronomy with his magnetic field findings? How in the world do I accurately describe and articulate Gene’s genius? I desperately wanted to do it right, and as I wrote and rewrote what I was going to say I realized that words in and of themselves were inadequate.

Slideshow image credits: NASA/JHU APL/University of Chicago/Glenn Benson/Nicola Fox/Noah Loh/Eric Parker

In 2017, the Solar Probe Plus mission was renamed Parker Solar Probe in honor of Gene. It was the first time a NASA mission has ever been named for a living person. In 2018, I stood with Gene and we watched in awe (I screamed and cheered, and he stared silently mesmerized) as Gene’s namesake mission launched and began its journey. Since its launch, Parker has been continuously setting and breaking records, including fastest human-made object and closest human-made object to the Sun. It has studied comets, returned valuable data on the planet Venus, and provided new information about the dust near our Sun.

On April 28, 2021, Parker Solar Probe flew through the Sun’s upper atmosphere – the corona – and sampled particles and magnetic fields there. In other words, Parker Solar Probe “touched” the Sun. The mission named after Gene and that built upon his work touched the Sun.

During the laureate lecture for the Crafoord Symposium, I talked about Gene and what he meant to me. I also talked about Parker Solar Probe’s accomplishments. I realized that the science could say and do what I couldn’t – properly honor Gene. Parker Solar Probe is a one-of-a-kind mission that has accomplished feats beyond what the world thought was possible – and it’s not done yet. Gene Parker was a one-of-a-kind man that accomplished feats unimaginable in his time and his work will continue to be the foundation that produces bigger and bolder discoveries.

By Nicola Fox
Heliophysics Division Director, NASA HQ, Washington

Like an Outdoor Nightclub: Q&A on Pulsating Auroras

NASA’s citizen science projects are collaborations between scientists and interested members of the public. Through these collaborations, volunteers known as citizen scientists have helped make thousands of important scientific discoveries. Aurorasaurus is one such project that tracks auroras around the world in real time via reports on its website and on Twitter

Aurorasaurus often partners with other organizations to complement science with citizen science and recently Aurorasauraus partnered with NASA’s Loss through Auroral Microburst Pulsations (LAMP) mission. Early on the morning of Saturday, March 5, 2022, the LAMP mission successfully took flight, flying straight into a pulsating aurora. 

Pulsating auroras are quirky, shy auroral forms. They occur within diffuse auroras, and look like pulsating patches toward the equator that turn on and off every few seconds. They also have irregular shapes that reappear. They usually occur late in the night or early in the morning, after the main arcs have subsided. They dance often but are less frequently caught on camera due to their dimness and timing. Because auroras reveal invisible structures and pulsating auroras are caused by electrons with huge amounts of energy, pulsating auroras are important for studying how our planet gets energy from space.

The LAMP team included several of Aurorasaurs’ superuser group, the Aurorasaurus Ambassadors, who were excited to work together on a citizen science campaign around the mission. As part of the citizen science collaboration, the Aurorasaurus and LAMP teams asked for citizen scientists’ questions about pulsating aurora. Here are their answers. 

timelapse image of a rocket launch, showing bright streak into the skyWhat is the difference between the aurora that looks like a curtain and that which just looks like a fuzzy patch or cloud in the sky?

Auroras that look like curtains are called “discrete auroras,” and auroras that look like a fuzzy patch or cloud are called “diffuse auroras.” There’s a lot of science that goes into which makes an appearance at what time of night, and it can differ depending on your location. 

If you are watching from the auroras’ usual location at high latitudes—for example, from Fairbanks, Alaska, or Reykjavik, Iceland—you can see auroras caused by geomagnetic storms, which are caused by intense storms of particles and energy from the Sun. But more commonly you’ll see regular, smaller “auroral substorms.” These are caused by a different process. Both diffuse and discrete auroras happen as part of the natural progression of the more common process called a substorm.

silhouette of person in glass-walled room looking out into aurora-filled green sky
A scientist watches aurora from Poker Flat, Alaska. Photo credit: Dr. Alexa Halford

If you are watching from mid-latitudes like North Dakota or southern Alberta, the aurora you see will likely be caused by a geomagnetic storm. Stronger storms generate both types of aurora and tend to push the auroras further down toward the equator. 

Is it normal to have pulsating aurora and other kinds of aurora in the sky together?

Yes, it is very common for pulsating aurora to appear alongside other types. Depending on your location, you might see part or all of the sky pulsating. Much like discrete auroras, pulsating auroras fan out across great distances and are visible from different perspectives, based on your location. You could even find yourself in a special location where, in addition to pulsating auroras, you can see discrete aurora evolving to the north and diffuse aurora pulsing to the south, with a distinct edge between the two. 

There are also many different sub-types of pulsating aurora. Some form shapes that hold their edges like a patch turning on and off, while some “whoosh” on and off in curling, dragonlike shapes. Another type of aurora forms shapes that are unusually flat, like pancakes in the sky. Seeing one of these types might mean that there’s some interesting science going on in the Earth’s ionized upper atmosphere, or in the way particles rain down from space. Citizen scientists’ photos of these displays from multiple locations may help scientists find more clues to the mystery of how they occur. 

I am curious about the speed of the pulsating aurora and what makes it dance so fast.  It is almost like being in an outdoor nightclub!

Pulsating auroras can dance slowly or quickly, and can flash both pink and green. They can especially give a nightclub effect when multiple things are happening at once. Here are two factors that contribute to the lights turning on and off, which is a time-based or “temporal” effect. 

    • Pulsating auroras we think are caused by special waves called “chorus waves” interacting with particles in near-Earth space. The waves can give the particles energy, bouncing them into the atmosphere. The frequency of groups of chorus waves is the frequency at which the particles are being thrown into the upper atmosphere, and therefore the frequency of the patchy pulsations that you see. Sometimes, there are even higher-speed variations embedded in the light that are not visible to the naked eye or regular cameras.
    • Extra-fast, pink flashes are caused by the chemistry of nitrogen gas. The colors of aurora are made when atoms and molecules in the upper atmosphere are energized and then release that extra energy as light. Different gases make different colors, and the release process happens at different speeds for different kinds. Nitrogen, which makes a pink color, emits light very quickly—faster than oxygen green—so the pink appears to move faster.

Put these together and you can get brilliant, rapid displays!

Can I see pulsating aurora in Washington state?

Yes, pulsating aurora may occur at mid-latitudes during larger geomagnetic storms. Keep an eye on Aurorasaurus and our Storm Tracker chart to help track auroral activity. And if you see pulsating aurora, you can make a citizen science report to Aurorasaurus! Pulsating auroras can be enormous, and cover hundreds of miles, so the more locations they are reported from, the more our scientific understanding can grow. The project is grateful to all those who submitted reports during the LAMP mission campaign. 

Why is it important to send instruments above the pulsating aurora to measure it? What things can’t be measured from the ground or satellites?

While satellites and ground-based observations can capture some aspects, we can gain a better picture of the cause of auroral dynamics by collecting particles within or very near to the aurora. To do this, scientists send instruments to collect data at and just above the location of the aurora, using a special type of rocket known as a sounding rocket, which can fly into auroras. 

Sounding rockets provide a unique way to capture data about the aurora in situ in regions that are otherwise hard to sample. Sounding rockets also move more slowly than satellites, so they can better capture rapidly-moving phenomena like auroras in exquisite detail. This can help scientists learn more about “microphysics,” the physics of waves interacting with tiny, charged particles. On March 5, 2022, a sounding rocket launched LAMP to about 267 miles up where it flew through a pulsating aurora. 

Woman holding a computer in front of large screen showing data.
Dr. Allison Jaynes examines data on the night of the launch. Photo credit: Mike Shumko

On March 5, 2022, a sounding rocket launched LAMP to about 267 miles up where it flew through a pulsating aurora. In addition, LAMP also had two cameras on board to take photos of the aurora, from a Japanese team including members from JAXA, Nagoya University, Tohoku University, Kyushu Institute of Technology, and the University of Electro-Communications. Because the rocket itself rotates about once per second, the cameras were mounted on a “de-spun” platform. The platform rotates in the opposite direction of the rocket at the same rate as it spins, so the cameras can stay relatively still and take clear pictures. The camera provided real-time still images of the pulsating patches to the scientists on the ground. This was the first time that a camera with a de-spun platform mounted to a rocket has been successfully demonstrated! 

data graphic of pulsating aurora
Simultaneous images of pulsating aurora from the two cameras attached to LAMP. Images: AIC-S1/AIC-S2 team

Has rocket citizen science been done before?

Yes! Aurorasaurus helped connect two-woman citizen science team Hearts in the Ice with a rocket mission in Norway during their time overwintering in Svalbard. Read more here

What’s it like to help with a mission like this? 

Pretty amazing, according to Aurorasaurus Ambassador and senior undergraduate student at the University of North Dakota,Vincent Ledvina, who helped with the launch: 

I just got back from Fort Yukon, Alaska, where Aurorasaurus helped connect me with an opportunity to assist with the NASA LAMP sounding rocket mission. It was eye-opening and rewarding to watch the team effort, and I am grateful to Aurorasaurus and the LAMP team for opening this door to me. Seeing all the moving parts (literally and figuratively) that have to come together in order for the mission to be a success makes me realize how important communication and leadership are in science. Logistics in remote areas is a challenge I never fully realized until this mission. Although I was staying at an Air Force station, I only had access to a low-bandwidth satellite internet connection with no cell service, so the most reliable communication was a landline phone that looked straight from the 1980s!

While I had some sense of how aurora cameras work from the North Dakota Dual Auroral Camera (NoDDAC) project, I finally got a taste of what real science-grade cameras are like. My job was to make sure three special cameras — some of which were from the Japanese rocket team — were running when the LAMP rocket launched, to capture video of pulsating aurora. The video will be correlated with data the rocket gathered as it flew through the aurora.

An avid photographer himself, Vincent Ledvina took 40,000 of his own images during the trip and made this beautiful compilation.

Pulsating aurora is a fascinating and mysterious phenomenon, and Auroasaurus looks forward to seeing what the data gathered by LAMP will reveal. They are grateful to all the citizen scientists who sent in questions—especially Michelle and Tracy—submitted photos of pulsating aurora, and shared info about the mission! Thank you for your interest and contributions. 

Aurorasaurus website interface showing map of region around Alaska and green blob representing aurora.
Report from Aurorasaurus website.

By Laura Brandt,
Aurorasaurus team

NASA-funded CubeSat Discovers Source of Super-fast Electron Rain

By Emmanuel Masongsong

Using a NASA-funded CubeSat, scientists have uncovered a new source of super-fast, energetic electrons raining down on our planet, which can have implications for space infrastructure and atmospheric modeling.

Scientists from the University of California Los Angles (UCLA) observed this rain, known as “electron precipitation”, from low-Earth orbit using the Electron Losses and Fields Investigation, or ELFIN, mission. ELFIN is a pair of small, cube-shaped satellites known as CubeSats. It was built and operated by UCLA undergraduate and graduate students under guidance from small team of staff mentors.

Combining ELFIN data with more distant observations from NASA’s Time History of Events and Macroscale Interactions during Substorms, or THEMIS, spacecraft, the scientists determined that the electron rain was caused by whistler waves, a type of electromagnetic wave that ripples through plasma in space. Their results, published in Nature Communications, found more electron precipitation than leading theories had previously predicted.

The THEMIS and ELFIN satellites (orbits shown in cyan and green, respectively) worked together to help understand the mystery of electron rain. When whistler waves (purple) interact with the electrons, they can give them extra energy (red spiral), which causes them to fall into the atmosphere. Credit: Zhang et al. 2022

“ELFIN is the first satellite to measure these super-fast electrons,” said Xiaojia Zhang, lead author on the new paper and researcher in UCLA’s Department of Earth, Planetary, and Space Sciences (EPSS). “The mission is yielding new insights due to its unique vantage point.”

The near-Earth space environment is highly dynamic and filled with charged particles orbiting in giant rings around the planet called Van Allen radiation belts. Similar to a coiled slinky bouncing back and forth between two hands, electrons in the radiation belts travel in spirals between Earth’s North and South magnetic poles. Under certain conditions, electromagnetic vibrations called whistler waves can occur in the radiation belts, energizing and speeding up the electrons so much that they can be lost into the atmosphere, creating the electron rain.

Electrons in Earth’s radiation belts, show as yellow and red cross-sections, typically spiral back and forth, bouncing between the Poles. However, disturbances to the belts can boost electrons out of their typical orbits, making them shower down at the North and South Pole, where they can spark the auroras. Credit: Emmanuel Masongsong

Combining THEMIS observations of whistler waves, ELFIN’s electron data and sophisticated computer modeling, the team saw how the whistler waves caused a rapid torrent of electrons to flow into the atmosphere, far beyond the amount expected from previous theories. Current space weather models do not account for this extra electron flow, which not only contributes to dazzling auroras, but can damage low-orbiting satellites and affect atmospheric chemistry.

“It’s truly a rewarding feeling to have increased our knowledge of space science, using data from the hardware we built ourselves,” said Colin Wilkins, co-author, instrument lead, and space physics doctoral student in EPSS. “It takes tremendous effort and determination behind the scenes to make that happen.”

The team further showed that this type of radiation belt loss to the atmosphere can increase significantly during geomagnetic storms, which are disturbances caused by enhanced solar activity that can affect near-Earth space. Existing models do not account for this, thus underestimating the effects of electron precipitation.

Factoring in the impact of electron losses on the atmosphere is important not only for terrestrial modeling, but also for understanding Earth’s magnetic environment and predicting hazards to satellites, astronauts, and other space infrastructure. Although space is commonly thought to be separate from our upper atmosphere, the two are inextricably linked. Understanding how they’re linked can benefit satellites and astronauts passing through the region, which are increasingly important for commerce, Earth monitoring, telecommunications, and tourism.

“The ELFIN mission has given UCLA students the chance to work on an industry-caliber project right on campus, and I’m proud that we’ve been able to accomplish so much with over 300 undergraduate students without sacrificing the quality of the science,” said Ethan Tsai, co-author, project manager, and doctoral student in space physics. “Data from the ELFIN satellites are at the cutting edge of space weather studies and will be heavily used by researchers around the world over the next decade, so we’ve worked very hard to make our data open and easily accessible to the entire space science community.”

The Sun Spot blog logo

Solar Tour Pit Stop #12: At the Sun

At the Sun

Greetings from the Sun! Today is the final stop of our #SolarTour and we’ve got some big news from Parker Solar Probe. 


Hot off the press!

We’ve touched the Sun! Parker Solar Probe is officially the first spacecraft to fly through the Sun’s upper atmosphere – the corona – sample particles and magnetic fields there. Flying so close to the Sun is revealing new things about our star, like where striking magnetic zig-zag structures in solar wind, called switchbacks, are born. Learn all about it: go.nasa.gov/3oU7Vlj


Sharing Parker’s journey

As Parker Solar Probe flew through the solar atmosphere, it scooped up a bit of plasma in a special instrument called a Faraday cup. NASA program scientist and project manager for the instrument Kelly Korreck, shares what it’s been like to be a part of the mission.

A Q&A with Kelly Korreck


We made it!

We’ve hit the end of the line – for now. But Parker Solar Probe will continue venturing closer to the solar surface in the coming years, bringing us new science and insight about our closest star. 

Until then, we invite you to sing along with us as we recap the 12 days of the #SolarTour in a festive song!

Record yourself singing our lyrics, and if your submission catches our eye, we may feature your video!  Here’s how to participate:

    1. Record yourself singing our 12 Days of the #SolarTour song (lyrics below).
    2. Share your video and tag us on Facebook (@NASASunScience) or Twitter (@NASASun) for a chance to be featured on NASA’s website and social media accounts!
    3. If your submission catches our eye, we’ll be in touch to obtain permission for it to be considered for sharing from one of our social media accounts or other NASA digital products.

Here are the lyrics:

On the first day of solar tour
Our bright Sun let us see
A spacecraft launch from Kennedy

On the second day of solar tour
Our bright Sun let us see
A total eclipse
And a spacecraft launch from Kennedy

On the third day of solar tour

Our bright Sun let us see
An electric atmosphere
A total eclipse
And a spacecraft launch from Kennedy

On the fourth day of solar tour
Our bright Sun let us see
Dancing aurora
An electric atmosphere
A total eclipse
And a spacecraft launch from Kennedy

On the fifth day of solar tour
Our bright Sun let us see
The magnetosphere
Dancing aurora
An electric atmosphere
A total eclipse
And a spacecraft launch from Kennedy

On the sixth day of solar tour
Our bright Sun let us see
Satellites a-zooming
The magnetosphere
Dancing aurora
An electric atmosphere
A total eclipse
And a spacecraft launch from Kennedy

On the seventh day of solar tour
Our bright Sun let us see
Dust and plasma drifting
Satellites a-zooming
The magnetosphere
Dancing aurora
An electric atmosphere
A total eclipse
And a spacecraft launch from Kennedy

On the eighth day of solar tour
Our bright Sun let us see
Venus that we’re passing
Dust and plasma drifting
Satellites a-zooming
The magnetosphere
Dancing aurora
An electric atmosphere
A total eclipse
And a spacecraft launch from Kennedy

On the ninth day of solar tour
Our bright Sun let us see
Solar wind a-blowing
Venus that we’re passing
Dust and plasma drifting
Satellites a-zooming
The magnetosphere
Dancing aurora
An electric atmosphere
A total eclipse
And a spacecraft launch from Kennedy

On the tenth day of solar tour
Our bright Sun let us see
A solar cycle growing
Solar wind a-blowing
Venus that we’re passing
Dust and plasma drifting
Satellites a-zooming
The magnetosphere
Dancing aurora
An electric atmosphere
A total eclipse
And a spacecraft launch from Kennedy

On the eleventh day of solar tour
Our bright Sun let us see
Switchbacks are snapping
A solar cycle growing
Solar wind a-blowing
Venus that we’re passing
Dust and plasma drifting
Satellites a-zooming
The magnetosphere
Dancing aurora
An electric atmosphere
A total eclipse
And a spacecraft launch from Kennedy

On the twelfth day of solar tour
Our bright Sun let us see
We touched our Sun
Switchbacks are snapping
A solar cycle growing
Solar wind a-blowing
Venus that we’re passing
Dust and plasma drifting
Satellites a-zooming
The magnetosphere
Dancing aurora
An electric atmosphere
A total eclipse
And a spacecraft launch from Kennedy

Solar Tour Pit Stop #11: Near the Sun

Near the Sun

We’re nearing the end of our solar tour, which means we’re getting closer to the star of the show! We sent Parker Solar Probe to the Sun to investigate some of our star’s biggest mysteries. The closer we get, the more discoveries we make.


The Sun’s hottest mystery

One of the big questions we hope to answer with Parker Solar Probe is the coronal heating problem: the mystery of why the Sun’s atmosphere is much, much hotter than the surface below – just the opposite of what we would expect. In this story, learn more about one of the hottest questions in solar science. 


Parker Solar Probe’s first discoveries

So far, Parker Solar Probe’s discoveries include zig-zagging magnetic switchbacks and our solar system’s elusive dust-free zone. Revisit the mission’s first batch of results.


You’re getting warmer…

Now that we’re approaching the Sun, we have just one more stop to go on our solar tour where we have a big announcement!

Follow NASA’s #SolarTour on Twitter and Facebook!

Solar Tour Pit Stop #10: The Solar Cycle

The Solar Cycle

Everything we’ve seen so far on the solar tour has been shaped by the Sun’s activity, which ebbs and flows over an 11-year cycle. To understand the Sun’s effects on space, we need to get to the bottom of the solar cycle.


How one scientist predicts the solar cycle

Solar scientist Lisa Upton builds computer models to predict how strong a solar cycle will be. It’s her favorite part of her job – and important work for helping us plan and prepare for space weather events.

Learn how she makes solar cycle predictions and why she loves studying the Sun.


Tracking the solar cycle

Tracking the solar cycle is a huge effort. It takes measurements of the Sun’s magnetic fields, complex models, and – most importantly – daily hand-drawn maps of the Sun’s surface. In this story, learn how scientists around the world track the solar cycle. 


Sketching the Sun

To track the solar cycle’s progress, scientists rely on observers who draw the Sun’s surface by hand, every day! Want to sketch one of your own?
Visit the latest from our SDO and see whether the Sun has sunspots today (scroll to HMI Intensitygram): 
https://sdo.gsfc.nasa.gov/data/

Follow NASA’s #SolarTour on Twitter and Facebook!

Solar Tour Pit Stop #9: The Solar Wind

The Solar Wind

Ah, the solar wind – that steady stream of particles our Sun sheds to space. The solar wind fills every nook and cranny of interstellar space, pelting planetary atmospheres and shaping their long-term fate.


Space weather

Hey Parker, how’s the weather out there?

There’s weather in space – but we’re not talking rain or snow. The solar wind can trigger magnetic storms with dangerous effects on astronauts, satellites and even our power grid.

Curious about space weather?  Your questions, answered.


The Solar Wind at Earth

“If the Sun sneezes, Earth catches a cold.”

The solar wind keeps us in touch with what’s happening on the Sun. More on how it affects us here on Earth and how Parker protects itself in space.


Solar wind speed

Even the slowest solar wind travels about 186 miles per second.

At that speed, we’ll be at our next stop in a jiffy!

Follow NASA’s #SolarTour on Twitter and Facebook!

Solar Tour Pit Stop #8: Venus

A Swing by Venus

Greetings from the solar tour! We have arrived at Venus.

Venus and Earth are twins, both rocky and similar size and structure.  Studying Venus helps scientists understand what makes Venus inhospitable and Earth habitable.

But Venus is closer to the Sun, and spacecraft that have flown there in the past have only survived a few hours. 


The sounds of Venus

NASA’s Parker Solar Probe is traveling to study the Sun, and flies by Venus to help slingshot it closer to our star.

During a recent flyby of Venus, Parker found that the planet’s upper atmosphere goes through surprising changes over the Sun’s 11-year activity cycle. 

More on what Parker “heard” from Venus


Venus’ nightside

Flying by Venus can give unique and expected views of the inner solar system. 

While flying by Venus, Parker Solar Probe captured this view of Venus’ nightside.

The WISPR instrument captured the image in July 2020 from 7,693 miles away from the planet. More on Parker’s stunning view.


Falling towards the Sun

Thanks to Venus’ gravity, we’ve slowed our orbit to fall even closer to the Sun. Onwards!

Follow NASA’s #SolarTour on Twitter and Facebook!

Solar Tour Pit Stop #7: Interplanetary Space

The Space Between

Hello from interplanetary space!

This solar tour stop may seem empty, but there’s more than meets the eye. 


Empty space, full of plasma

If you look closely, the space between the planets is filled with dust, particles, magnetic fields and a mysterious substance called plasma. Hear from scientists Doug Rowland and Don Gurnett as we journey through this mysterious and electrifying substance. 


Weird space

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know space is weird. But just how weird might surprise you. Space is dominated by invisible electromagnetic forces that we typically don’t feel. It’s also full of a bizarre state of matter that we don’t usually experience on Earth.

Here are five unearthly things that happen in outer space. 


Kickin’ up dust

Just as dust gathers in corners and along bookshelves in our homes, dust piles up in interplanetary space, too. 

Dust is dispersed throughout the entire solar system, but it collects in rings around the orbits of Earth and Venus. By studying this dust, scientists seek clues to understanding the birth of planets and the composition of all that we see in the solar system.

Follow NASA’s #SolarTour on Twitter and Facebook!

Solar Tour Pit Stop #6: L1

Float with NASA’s Fleet at Lagrange Point 1!

Greetings from Lagrange Point 1, or L1, the 6th stop on our solar tour! This is a special place between Earth and the Sun where their gravitational forces are balanced. It’s a great spot for spacecraft because they’ll stay put between the two objects and orbit with Earth, no fuel required.


Q&A with a solar expert

The spacecraft with us here at L1 play a key role in helping us understand the structure of the Sun. Learn more about studying the Sun from afar with solar scientist Ruizhu Chen.

Dr. Chen on studying the Sun


L1, 25 years on

There’s a lot happening on the surface of our Sun, too, and L1 offers a great view of that as well. Equipped with a special tool to see the Sun’s outer atmosphere, NASA’s SOHO mission has been watching the Sun for over 25 years from L1. Check out this video for a glimpse of our star through the decades.


Keep floatin’

That’s a wrap on our time at L1, but in theory we could stay here forever.

We’re now halfway through the Solar Tour before our big announcement. Come back tomorrow for our next stop!

Follow NASA’s #SolarTour on Twitter and Facebook!