Heliophysics is the science of the Sun and the physical connections between the Sun and the solar system (from the prefix "helio", from Attic Greek hḗlios, meaning Sun, and the noun 'physics': the science of matter and energy and their interactions). NASA defines[1] heliophysics as "(1) the comprehensive new term for the science of the Sun - Solar System Connection, (2) the exploration, discovery, and understanding of Earth's space environment, and (3) the system science that unites all of the linked phenomena in the region of the cosmos influenced by a star like our Sun. Heliophysics concentrates on the Sun, and its effects on Earth, the other planets of the solar system, and the changing conditions in space. Heliophysics is concerned with the magnetosphere, ionosphere, thermosphere, mesosphere, and upper atmosphere of the Earth and other planets. Heliophysics combines the science of the Sun, corona, heliosphere and geospace. Heliophysics encompasses cosmic rays and particle acceleration, space weather and radiation, dust and magnetic reconnection, nuclear energy generation and internal solar dynamics, solar activity and stellar magnetic fields, aeronomy and space plasmas, magnetic fields and global change, and the interactions of the solar system with our galaxy."

Prior to about 2002, the term heliophysics was sporadically used to describe the study of the "physics of the Sun" [2][3]. As such it was a direct translation from the French "héliophysique". Around 2002, Joseph M. Davila and Barbara J. Thompson at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center adopted the term in their preparations of what became known as the International Heliophysical Year (2007-2008), following 50 years after the International Geophysical Year; in adopting the term for this purpose, they expanded its meaning to encompass the entire domain of influence of the Sun. As an early advocate of the newly expanded meaning, George Siscoe offered the following characterization:

"Heliophysics [encompasses] environmental science, a unique hybrid between meteorology and astrophysics, comprising a body of data and a set of paradigms (general laws—perhaps mostly still undiscovered) specific to magnetized plasmas and neutrals in the heliosphere interacting with themselves and with gravitating bodies and their atmospheres."

Around 2007, Richard R. Fisher, then Director of the Sun-Earth Connections Division of NASA's Science Mission Directorate, was challenged by the NASA administrator to come up with a concise new name for his division that "had better end on 'physics'" [4]. He proposed "Heliophysics Science Division", which has been in use since then. The Heliophysics Science Division uses the term 'heliophysics' to denote the study of the heliosphere and the objects that interact with it—most notably planetary atmospheres and magnetospheres, the solar corona, and the interstellar medium.

Heliophysical research connects directly to a broader web of physical processes that naturally expand its reach beyond the narrow initial definition that limits it to the solar system: heliophysics reaches from solar physics out to stellar physics in general, involves several branches of nuclear physics, plasma physics, space physics and magnetospheric physics. The science of heliophysics lies at the foundation of the study of space weather, and is also directly involved in understanding planetary habitability. This multitude of connections between heliophysics and (astro-)physical sciences is explored in a series of textbooks on heliophysics developed over more than a decade of NASA-funded Summer Schools for early-career researchers in the discipline.

Heliophysics flight program timeline in 2011

See also


  1. ``Heliophysics. The New Science of the Sun - Solar System Connection: Recommended Roadmap for Science and Technology 2005 - 2035.; https://ntrs.nasa.gov/search.jsp?R=20090010233
  2. Gough, D.O. (1983). "Our first inferences from helioseismology". Physics Bulletin. 34: 502–507. Bibcode:1983PhB....34..502G.
  3. Gough, D.O. (September 2012). "Heliophysics Gleaned from Seismology". ASP Conference Series. 462: 429–454. arXiv:1210.1114. Bibcode:2012ASPC..462..429G.
  4. Richard Fisher speaking just after the 1h30m mark in this youtube movie
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