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Solar Physics Then and Now

Published onAug 18, 2020
Solar Physics Then and Now

Solar research has consistently led in the organization of astronomy and in introduction of new observational techniques. The founding of the Mt Wilson Solar Observatory led the way in moving major observatories from cities to mountaintops. The Sun provided the source for the first radio, ultraviolet, and X-ray observations of cosmic sources. The Orbiting Solar Observatories (OSO) produced the first satellite-borne astronomical observations. The first cosmic observations by astronauts were made of the Sun from the Skylab Space Station. So it is fitting that the solar community was one of the first within the American Astronomical Society to organize its own Division. This move, and the founding of the journal Solar Physics shortly before, attracted criticism from some who feared that it would isolate solar research. But any such trend has been counter-balanced by increasing applications of solar findings to solar-terrestrial studies represented within the American Geophysical Union. The practice of solar research has also evolved. Of the three most important solar observational advances since WW II, the five-minute oscillation and its mode structure were discovered using modest ground-based telescopes. But the Sun’s total irradiance variation and the discovery of the huge plasma eruptions known as coronal transients, were first recognized using progressively more elaborate space-borne instrumentation. The move towards Big Science has continued inexorably in recent years but it is fast approaching a Funding Wall set by budgetary limits. The future vitality of solar research will be determined mainly by our ability to attract clever and innovative minds to use the impressive instruments at our disposal.


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