NASA talks our sun ahead of summer solstice

Space Science

STONEHENGE, ENGLAND – DECEMBER 22: Revellers take part in celebrations to mark the winter solstice at Stonehenge prehistoric monument on December 22, 2019 in Wiltshire, England. Several thousand revellers, druids and pagans gathered at the monument to watch the sun rise and celebrate the solstice, a tradition believed to date back thousands of years. (Photo by Rufus Cox/Getty Images)

MYSTERY WIRE — Summer solstice is set to arrive in Earth’s Northern Hemisphere.

Thousands of people usually gather to watch the sunrise at Stonehenge in southwest England on the Northern Hemisphere’s longest day of the year.

It’s a highlight of the year for thousands of British pagans, druids and assorted revelers.

NASA says summer solstice in the Northern Hemisphere will officially occur on June 21, at 03:32 GMT. That means for those in North America it’s on June 20, at 23:32 EDT.

It’s a green light to welcome summer season in the Northern Hemisphere and winter season in the Southern Hemisphere.

It will be the longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. The farther north, the longer the day.

The summer solstice occurs when the sun is directly above the Tropic of Cancer.

Many assume this means Earth is closest to the sun. It’s actually because of the Earth’s 23.4-degree tilt on its axis.

Earth’s northern half will be pointed toward the sun and its southern half away from it, causing the north to have its longest day, and the south its shortest.

“When the Earth is orbiting around the sun, it actually has a tilt, and so that means that depending on where it is during its year-long orbit, some parts of the Earth are facing towards the sun and some are facing away from the sun, meaning that they get more or less light at different times of the year. And that gives us the seasons – summer, spring, winter and fall,” explains NASA scientist Alex Young.

NASA has several missions studying our sun, hoping to answer decades-old burning questions about the inner workings of our nearest star.

So-called “space weather” affects astronauts and technology, including communications satellites, in space.

“We have things like the solar wind, this constant flow of material coming away from the sun in magnetic fields. Sometimes we have these huge burps of solar material, called coronal mass ejections. Those two can disturb our magnetic field, creating the aurora, but also disturbing electrical devices,” says Young.

“Solar flares, for example, huge flashes of light can heat up the Earth’s atmosphere and that can disrupt communications. And all of these can create hazardous environments for astronauts in space. So, all of these different types of phenomena are what we call space weather that are impacting the environment throughout this whole solar system.”

Two NASA spacecraft are coming perilously close to the sun.

Last June, Solar Orbiter, a joint mission with the European Space Agency, snapped the closest pictures ever taken of the sun.

The spacecraft was about 48 million miles (77 million kilometers) from the sun – about halfway between Earth and the sun – when it took the stunning high-resolution pictures.

The joint mission aims to give close-up views of the Sun’s polar regions and observe its magnetic activity for the first time.

If the mission goes as planned, Solar Orbiter will be able to take the first images of the Sun’s poles as well as investigate the heliosphere and solar wind.

NASA’s Parker Solar Probe is flying much closer to the sun than Solar Orbiter – too close, in fact, for cameras to safely photograph the sun.

The Parker Solar Probe’s lone camera faces away from the sun to observe solar wind.

“We have Parker Solar Probe, which is flying through the sun’s atmosphere, giving us this up-close-and-personal look,” says Young.

“And then we have another mission that while close to the sun is slightly farther away, it’s called Solar Orbiter. We’re doing this in conjunction with the European Space Agency, and that is giving us a perspective to allow us to see with cameras, but also it’s moving out of the plain of the solar system, allowing us to look at the poles of the sun, which is a completely new and unique viewpoint.”

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