The Sun's Influence on the Earh's Atmosphere and Interplanetary Space

Science  30 Apr 1982:
Vol. 216, Issue 4545, pp. 467-474
DOI: 10.1126/science.216.4545.467


The bulk of the sun's radiation is in the visible and infrared. Solar radiation at these wavelengths controls the weather in the lowest levels of the earth's atmosphere. The rate at which this energy is emitted (the so-called solar constant) varies by a few tenths of 1 percent over a time scale of days. Longer period variations may exist, but have yet to be detected. Far more variable are the amounts of energy emitted as ultraviolet, extreme ultraviolet, and x-rays, and in the continuous outflow of ionized solar particles. The latter controls the properties of the space between the earth and the sun as well as those of the earth's magnetosphere. The ultraviolet and particle emissions control the properties of the earth's upper atmosphere, including the global wind circulation and changes therein associated with intense auroral storms. While considerable progress has been made in exploring the solar-terrestrial system since the advent of space research, many problems remain. These include the question of how magnetic energy is converted into ionized particle energy in the sun and in the earth's magnetosphere, the way in which solar and terrestrial magnetic fields join or merge, and how large electric fields are generated and sustained a few thousand kilometers above the earth's poles. Perhaps the most intriguing question concerns the possible relation between solar variability and the earth's weather and climate.