Feb 11, 2020 - Science

We're about to learn a lot more about the Sun

The Sun is getting its due. Photo: NASA/SDO/AIA

The Sun is getting a long-overdue close-up thanks to a number of new missions designed to reveal the inner workings of our nearest star.

Why it matters: The mechanisms that govern the solar wind, the Sun's 11-year cycle and magnetic fields are still largely a mystery.

  • Understanding those behaviors is necessary for forecasting space weather — and protecting satellites in orbit and the power grid on Earth.

What's happening: The Solar Orbiter spacecraft — a joint mission of NASA and the European Space Agency — launched Sunday night.

  • Once in place around the Sun, it will snap photos of the star's polar regions for the first time and give scientists a better understanding of its magnetic fields.

The big picture: The Solar Orbiter and two other recent Sun-centered missions are allowing scientists to study how space weather — like solar flares — is generated and spread across the solar system.

The bigger picture: Learning more about the Sun could also help researchers piece together how other sunlike stars act and whether those solar systems might harbor habitable planets.

  • "The only way we can really understand that complex relationship [between a star and its planets] is if we understand the one that we're directly affected by — the Sun and the Earth," NASA solar scientist Alex Young told Axios.

Details: The Parker Solar Probe, launched in 2018, is studying the solar wind, picking apart the small particles not far from the Sun to understand how the star's atmosphere works.

  • The National Science Foundation's Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope is a microscope for the Sun, gathering detailed observations about the star's surface from Earth.
  • When the Parker Probe's and Solar Orbiter's orbits align, they'll be able to study the same stream of particles from the Sun at different points in space.
  • About 10 other spacecraft also continue to stare at the star from farther away, adding to those observations.

Yes, but: All this new data doesn't immediately translate into better predictions of space weather.

  • Current space weather models don't completely account for the behavior of the Sun's magnetic fields and the intricacies of how solar flares shoot from the star.
  • The data gathered by the new telescopes will be fed into those models, but it may take years to fully integrate the new information.

Go deeper: New telescope takes highest-resolution photo of the Sun's surface

Go deeper

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 8:30 p.m. ET: 5,490,954 — Total deaths: 345,962 — Total recoveries — 2,228,915Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 8:30 p.m. ET: 1,662,250 — Total deaths: 98,218 — Total recoveries: 379,157 — Total tested: 14,604,942Map.
  3. World: Italy reports lowest number of new cases since February — Ireland reports no new coronavirus deaths on Monday for the first time since March 21 — WHO suspends trial of hydroxychloroquine over safety concerns.
  4. 2020: Trump threatens to move Republican convention from North Carolina — Joe Biden makes first public appearance in two months.
  5. Public health: Officials are urging Americans to wear masks over Memorial Day.
  6. Economy: New York stock exchange to reopen its floor on Tuesday — White House economic adviser Kevin Hassett says it's possible the unemployment rate could still be in double digits by November's election — Charities refocus their efforts to fill gaps left by government.
  7. What should I do? Hydroxychloroquine questions answeredTraveling, asthma, dishes, disinfectants and being contagiousMasks, lending books and self-isolatingExercise, laundry, what counts as soap — Pets, moving and personal healthAnswers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingHow to minimize your risk.
  8. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it, the right mask to wear.

Subscribe to Mike Allen's Axios AM to follow our coronavirus coverage each morning from your inbox.

Updated 5 mins ago - Politics & Policy

In photos: Authorities issue warning as Americans venture out for Memorial Day weekend

Ocean City in New Jersey on May 25. Photo: Donald Kravitz/Getty Images

Authorities urged Americans to maintain social distancing and wear masks to protect against the spread of the novel coronavirus amid reports of packed beaches and bars during the Memorial Day weekend.

Details: Law enforcement stepped up beach patrols, and there were crowded scenes in several places, notably at Lake of the Ozarks bars in Missouri and at Daytona Beach and on the Gulf Coast in Florida, per AP. Police dispersed crowds in some places, ABC notes. But many Americans did take precautions against COVID-19 as they ventured outside for the long weekend, some three months after the pandemic began in the U.S.

Coronavirus stay-at-home orders crater voter registration efforts

A volunteer looks for persons wanting to register to vote on July 4, 2019 in Santa Fe, N.M. Photo: Robert Alexander/Getty Images

The coronavirus pandemic is scuppering usual "get out the vote" efforts, leading to fears that large swaths of Americans could miss out on this year's elections.

What’s happening: Advocacy groups typically target college campuses, churches, festivals, fairs and other gatherings to seek out people who have yet to register, but many of those places are now closed. Voter registration efforts have largely moved to the internet, but advocates question whether that will be as effective as the person-to-person pitch.