Solar Wind


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solar wind green house effect

GREENHOUSE EFFECT
       

The glass windows of a greenhouse lets in sunlight. The sunlight warms up objects inside the greenhouse. These objects then give off heat. The glass of the greenhouse, however, does not let out the heat. If the greenhouse lacks ventilation, all the heat stays locked inside and the temperature rises. This greenhouse effect also causes the inside of an automobile to become hot if its windows remain closed on a sunny day.

        The Earth and its atmosphere are like a giant greenhouse. Like the glass windows of a greenhouse, the atmosphere is nearly transparent to shortwave and visible solar radiation. Part of the energy absorbed by the Earth is radiated to the atmosphere as long-wave infrared radiation. Because it contains carbon dioxide and water vapor, which absorb much of the long-wave radiation before partially reradiating it back to the surface, the atmosphere is not completely transparent to this long-wave radiation. This causes the Earth and its atmosphere to warm up.
Variations in the amounts of carbon dioxide and water vapor in the air can have a significant effect on how much heat is retained by the atmosphere. The total amount of carbon dioxide present in the Earth's atmosphere remained nearly constant until the 20th century, when the burning of fossil fuels such as coal, fuel oil, gasoline, and natural gas began to release large quantities of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

         The combustion of fossil fuels brought about an ever-increasing rise in the carbon-dioxide concentration in the atmosphere. Some scientists believe that, as the greenhouse effect is intensified, long-term climate changes on the Earth will climb. According to some predictions, significant alterations in climate patterns could become apparent by the end of the 20th century. Estimates of global average temperatures have projected an increase of as much as 9F (5C) before the year 2100. Such a rise in global temperature, some scientists hypothesize, would produce new patterns and extremes of drought and rainfall, which would seriously disrupt food production. Temperature increases in the polar regions could be as much as three times greater than the global estimate, which would cause the polar ice caps to melt at a rapid rate and result in appreciably higher coastal waters.

         Other factors may reduce the effect of an increase in carbon dioxide and thus prevent a rise in temperature. One of these factors is the rise in the amount of dust in the atmosphere, as the result of a volcanic eruption, for example. This could lead to greater reflection of the sun's light by the atmosphere, which would tend to lower the temperature on Earth. Another factor helping to minimize the effect of increased amounts of carbon dioxide is the greater absorption of the gas by the oceans. Some scientists believe that water vapor plays a much more significant role than does carbon dioxide in the Earth's greenhouse effect and that fluctuations in it are therefore much more important.

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The SOHO Project

The Solar and Heliospheric Observatory or SOHO for short is a cooperative joint effort by the European Space Agency (ESA) and the U. S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).  The main mission of this project is to study the internal structure of the Sun, its extensive upper atmosphere, as well as to determine the origin and characteristics of the solar wind.

 The SOHO spacecraft was launched on December 2, 1995 where then it was directed to go about 930,000 miles sunward from the Earth to the L1 or the Lagrangian point.  This Lagrangian point is a place between the Sun and the Earth where the gravity pulls of both masses stabilize the spacecraft enough to achieve a state of gravitational equilibrium between the two masses.  At this point, the spacecraft then established its own halo-like orbit in space but continued to also orbit about the Sun in the same orbital path as the Earth.  Once SOHOs halo-like orbit was established, the spacecraft was then ready to open its payload bay doors and begin its probing of the Sun with its wide array of scientific instruments.
 All instruments aboard the SOHO spacecraft fall under one of the following headings based on what area of the Sun it is suppose to observe and measure: the solar interior, the solar atmosphere, or the solar wind.  The solar interior instruments such as GOLF (Global Oscillations at Low Frequencies) and VIRGO (Variability of Solar Irradiance and Gravity Oscillations) both perform oscillation measurements of the full solar disk which obtains information concerning the solar nucleus.  In addition, the instruments that measure the solar atmosphere such as the CDS (Coronal Diagnostics Spectrometer) and UVCS (Ultraviolet Coronograph Spectrometer) observe both the inner and outer corona.  They obtain measurements of temperature, density, composition, and velocity in the corona with high resolution.  Finally, the instruments that analyze and measure the solar wind include ERNE (Energetic and Relativistic Nuclei and Electron experiment) and CELIAS (Charge, Element, and Isotope Analysis System) which measure the charge state and isotopic composition of ions in the solar wind.  These two instruments also determine the charge and isotopic composition of energetic particles generated by the Sun.
The sensitive instruments aboard the SOHO spacecraft have already helped scientists here on Earth discover and explain some of the mysteries of the Sun as well as to confirm some of their theories they previously held.  For example, in May of 1998 with the help of the Michelson Doppler Interferometer scientists were able to see with greater clarity the giant convective cells inside and on the surface of the Sun.  With this information, scientists are now able to make out patterns of these convective cells on the Sun which in turn enhance their ability to predict future space weather as it affects the Earth.  Another example of the SOHO spacecraft helping scientists to get a better understanding of the Suns properties is when scientists received a closer look at the solar wind via the SUMER instrument.  For over 30 years now scientists have long thought that solar wind originated mainly from coronal holes on the surface of the Sun.  On February of 1999, however, scientists discovered that in actuality these outflows of solar wind are concentrated in specific patches at the edges of honeycomb shaped magnetic fields.  These magnetic fields are associated with large convection cells just below the surface of the Sun.  In addition, the spacecraft has a lot of routine tasks like taking daily images of the Suns corona via LASCOs ecliptic filter or capturing ions from the solar wind by way of the ERNE instrument.  The spacecraft has even helped to track and identify 102 new comets during the short course of its operation.

 In conclusion, the SOHO space project has given scientists around the world a better understanding of the brightest star in our sky.  It has helped scientists unravel old mysteries and gave rise to new ones.  Finally, this project will deepen our knowledge of the relationship between ourselves here on Earth and the most important giver of life in the solar system, our Sun.  
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