VOLUME 22 #3

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Solar energy has new meaning for Nasa

still capture Image of animiation of plasma
To see a UD animation of plasma, which makes up the solar wind, visit www.udel.edu/002361

We couldn’t survive on Earth without our shining star—the sun—93 million miles away. Yet we have much to learn about the environment called the heliosphere that surrounds the sun and planets like a giant teardrop, extending to the edge of the solar system. It’s a place where the solar wind and storms send out billions of volts of energy.

Knowing more about the heliosphere matters, says UD physicist William Matthaeus, if we ever want to build a space station on the moon, send astronauts to Mars, continuously protect satellites and electrical systems on Earth and even factor in the effects of space weather on our changing climate.

Matthaeus and co-investigator Michael Shay, associate professor of physics and astronomy, have been awarded a $1.2 million grant from NASA to explore how energy from the sun is transported across the heliosphere.

The UD team will draw on its expertise in theoretical physics and reconnection physics to develop simulation models of solar energy transport from macro- to micro-scales, ranging from the global solar wind to microscopic movement of space plasma.

“We’re working to explain something in nature that has never been explained before,” Matthaeus says. “We really want to understand the place our planet has in the universe.”

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