Our understanding of space weather and the impact of space around Earth has greatly increased in the last 10 years and if the ambitious plan the National Research Council can be implemented, the next 10 years will generate tons more scientific insight.
The National Research Council issued its second research recommendation report, "Solar and Space Physics: A Science for a Technological Society," which represents 18 months of research by more than 85 solar and space physicists and space system engineers and lays out major scientific goals for solar exploration on the next 10 years.
RELATED: What's up with these solar storms?
The council's report lists four overarching goals and challenges. From the report they include:
There are missions planned that being to address some of these goals including the Radiation Belt Storm Probes which are expected to launch on August 23rd and are expected to fly through the heavy radiation known as Van Allen radiation belts that surround Earth to determine the mechanisms that control the energy, intensity, spatial distribution, and time variability of the belts.
Another mission, the Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph (IRIS) is slated for launch in January 2013 and is expected to "deliver pioneering observations of chromospheric dynamics just above the solar surface to help determine their role in the origin of the heat and mass fluxes into the corona and wind," the council stated. A more ambitious mission, NASA's four satellite Magnetospheric Multiscale mission (MMS) is slated for 2014 to further explore heliophysics.
Other future programs cited by the council's report include:
The study went to say that NASA should also accelerate and expand the Heliophysics Explorer program, which provides frequent flight opportunities to enable the definition, development, and implementation of mission concepts.
"Augmenting the current program by $70 million per year, in fiscal year 2012 dollars, will restore the option of mid-size Explorers, allowing them to alternate with small Explorers every 2 to 3 years. As part of the augmented Explorer program, NASA should support regular selections of "Missions of Opportunity," which allow the research community to respond quickly and to leverage limited resources with interagency, international, and commercial flight partnerships. For relatively modest investments, such opportunities can potentially address high-priority science aims identified in this survey," the council stated.
"New moderate- and large-class missions later in the decade would investigate space physics at the edge of the heliosphere where the sun's influence wanes, the effects of processes in Earth's lower atmosphere on conditions in space, fundamental questions related to the creation and transport of plasma in Earth's ionosphere and magnetosphere, and how the Earth responds globally to magnetic storms from the sun," the report says.
"The proposed strategy directed at NSF, NASA, and also NOAA is one that recognizes the increased societal importance of solar and space physics, and how important it is to tackle these new opportunities with a diverse set of tools -- from miniature satellites like cubesats to moderate and large missions," said Thomas Zurbuchen, a professor and associate dean for entrepreneurship at the University of Michigan's College of Engineering and vice chair of the study committee in a statement.
The group's first solar and space physics survey issued in 2003 led to some of the most significant research and discoveries of our solar system including:
Layer 8 Extra
Check out these other hot stories: