This Week in Space

Jun 14th 2024

This Week in Space 115

Our Friendly Mr. Sun

Hosted by Rod Pyle, Tariq Malik

Mr. Sun: Friend or Foe? With Dr. Alex Young

New episodes posted every Friday.
Guests: C. Alex Young
Category: News

We see the sun every day as it rises and sets... it's one of the few constants in life. But it's a very dynamic body, throwing minor temper tantrums regularly. As it happens, we're at the peak of its 11-year cycle of activity and there's a lot going on! Dr. Alex Young, the Associate Director for Science in the Heliophysics Science Division at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, joins us to talk about the sun, solar activity cycles, the recent solar storms that have given us auroras and some communications blackouts, the science from the Parker solar probe, and much more. Don't take the friendly Mr. Sun for granted--join us for this fascinating episode!


  • NASA's accidental broadcast: A simulated medical emergency on the International Space Station was mistakenly aired for 8 minutes, causing brief panic before clarification.
  • Spacewalk canceled: Just before a planned spacewalk, NASA canceled the event citing spacesuit discomfort, with few details provided.
  • Voyager 1 update: The spacecraft is now sending back data from all four of its working instruments, a remarkable feat for the 47-year-old probe.
  • Remembering Bill Anders: The Apollo 8 astronaut, known for the iconic Earthrise photo, passed away at 90 after a private plane crash.

Main Topic - Our Friendly Mr. Sun:

  • Heliophysics defined: Dr. Young explains that heliophysics studies the sun's atmosphere and its interactions with Earth and the solar system.
  • Solar activity cycle: Currently near solar maximum, the sun is exhibiting increased sunspots, solar flares, and coronal mass ejections.
  • Space weather impacts: Solar activity can affect technology, causing communication disruptions, satellite damage, and even power grid outages.
  • Solar observation: A variety of spacecraft monitor the sun, including NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory and NOAA's GOES satellites.
  • Parker Solar Probe: This groundbreaking mission is providing unprecedented data about the sun's corona and solar wind.
  • Solar magnetic field: The sun's magnetic field flips every ~11 years, which can lead to increased solar activity during the transition.
  • Carrington Event: This 1859 solar storm remains the benchmark for extreme space weather, causing telegraph systems to catch fire.
  • Sun in pop culture: Rod, Tariq, and Dr. Alex Young discuss depictions of the sun in science fiction, separating fact from fiction.
  • Solar research: Dr. Young shares his current work on the statistics of large solar events and improving science communication.

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