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NASA selects five mission proposals to investigate space weather

The sun doesn’t only provide us with light and heat here on Earth. It also sends out streams of energy and particles which zip through the solar system and create the complex phenomena of space weather. Our planet’s magnetosphere protects us from the worst of the sun’s radiation, but outside of this bubble, it can cause problems for both people and machines.

Now, NASA has announced five new concept proposals to investigate the phenomena of space weather and to better understand how the sun affects the space environment.

“We constantly seek missions that use cutting edge technology and novel approaches to push the boundaries of science,” Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, said in a statement.

“Each one of these proposals offers the chance to observe something we have never before seen or to provide unprecedented insights into key areas of research, all to further the exploration of the universe we live in.”

The Sun sends out a constant stream of particles and energy, which drives a complex space weather system near Earth
The sun sends out a constant stream of particles and energy, which drives a complex space weather system near Earth and can affect spacecraft and astronauts. NASA has chosen five new mission concept studies for further development to study various aspects of this dynamic system. NASA

The five proposals include STORM (Solar-Terrestrial Observer for the Response of the Magnetosphere), a set of observation tools to get a global view of solar winds interacting with Earth’s magnetic field; HelioSwarm, which would observe solar winds at both the small and large scales; MUSE (Multi-slit Solar Explorer) to observe the sun’s corona and spot solar flares; ARCS (Auroral Reconstruction CubeSwarm) which would look at aurora phenomena at intermediate and large scales; and Solaris, which would view the sun’s poles to see how its magnetic fields develop.

“Whether it’s looking at the physics of our star, studying aurora, or observing how magnetic fields move through space, the heliophysics community seeks to explore the space system around us from a variety of vantage points,” Nicky Fox, director of the Heliophysics Division in NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, said in the statement.

“We carefully pick missions to provide perfectly placed sensors throughout the solar system, each offering a key perspective to understand the space that human technology and humans increasingly travel through.”

NASA will now provide funding to all five of these proposals to develop their concepts over the next nine months, after which two proposals will be chosen for launch.

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