Anyone who has ever seen a picture of Earth taken from deep space can be forgiven for thinking of these two words: "splendid isolation." But nothing could be further from the truth: Earth is profoundly connected to our star and the total solar eclipse drives this point home, scientifically and spiritually.
New view: Years ago, Big Thinkers held Earth and the Sun to be a system. Now we know that they weren't thinking big enough. Like Earth, every world in the solar system is connected to its star. The fingerprints of solar activity stretch from the bright core of the Sun to the surface chemistry of Mercury and the tattered atmosphere of Mars to the dark void 5 billion miles beyond Pluto where the Sun's magnetic field piles up against the plasma clouds of interstellar space. The central role of the Sun puts us just one degree of separation away from scores of planets, dwarf planets, moons, asteroids, and comets throughout the solar system.
The bottom line: The Sun's domain is huge — and hugely complex. We need to apply the intellectual tools of astrophysics, magnetospheric physics, atmospheric chemistry, aeronomy, meteorology, geophysics, and electrical engineering — threads of science that have long been separated by artificial boundaries and academic labels — in order to fully understand its effect on Earth and other worlds.
Other voices in the conversation:
- James Klimchuk, astrophysicist, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center: Why is the solar corona so hot?
- Douglas Drob and Joseph Huba, physicists, U.S. Naval Research Laboratory: The eclipse can tell us a lot about Earth's atmosphere
- Amir Caspi, astrophysicist, Southwest Research Institute:Chasing the eclipse with airborne telescopes