EDUCATION: Shooting the Sun

Science  23 Jul 2004:
Vol. 305, Issue 5683, pp. 457e
DOI: 10.1126/science.305.5683.457e

NASA's graphics-packed Sun-Earth Media Viewer helps students understand that our star's impact on Earth involves more than just heat and visible light. The site features regularly updated images from the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory, which can capture flares and other solar outbursts, and a collection of illustrations, such as cutaways of the sun's interior. Animations in the visualizations section let viewers dive into a sunspot or follow a blast of solar particles that speeds through space and crashes into the magnetosphere, the magnetic sheath that protects Earth from the sun's radiation. Strong bursts of these particles can toast satellites and even knock out power plants. In video interviews, NASA researchers and outside experts explain everything from why the sun is hot to what causes the resplendent auroras that tint the sky at high latitudes. These light shows result when solar particles hit the magnetic field, jolting atoms in the upper atmosphere into emitting photons.

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