sun dragon art SOHO is ahead in the Semifinal Round of
NASA's Mission Madness!
sun postcard

April 2, 2009

Interview with our Star the Sun

The Sun – she is with us every day. Sometimes behind a cloud, other times in plain view. She warms up our lives, helps grow food and if we are not careful, she gets us some red skin. There is a lot we know about the Sun, but there is so much we don’t know, and there is a lot that we don’t really appreciate. For example her gravitational pull that keeps Earth from cavorting around the galaxy.

Even though she could be considered a mature lady, after all, she is 4.6 billion years old, Ms. Sun asked us to look at her as a young Starlet, ready to shine. Currently there is NASA’s 2009 Mission Madness going on, which is an online voting competition acknowledging 64 wonderful NASA missions. In Round 1 there where three Solar Missions; TRACE, STEREO and SOHO. Only SOHO advanced to Round 2 and faced Apollo 8. It was an interesting battle and SOHO moved past that round and met Skylab in the next round. SOHO's last opponents Vikings I & II delivered a real good match-up to the last minute but SOHO used its 13 years space experience and advanced to the Semi-Final. Because of this big success, Ms. Sun agreed to an exclusive interview with SOHO and SDO.

***(site note, NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) is scheduled to launch later this year and continue solar observations. After cross calibrations between SOHO and SDO, SOHO will start its retirement process. After all, SOHO has been working hard for almost 5,000 days…). April 1, 2009 – L1 point (the point between Earth and the Sun where the balance of the larger Sun’s gravity and the smaller Earth’s gravity is equal, which means SOHO stays in that relative position. In other works, SOHO is about 1.5 million kilometers from Earth. Interview conducted by SOHO (Solar and Heliospheric Observatory) and its 12 instruments.

Question 1 from CDS (Coronal Diagnostic Spectrometer, built & operated by Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, UK):
Ms. Sun! We are so excited to have made the Semi-Final at NASA’s Mission Madness. Thanks for this interview. My question is, how did you become a star?

Soleil, our Sun:
Please, call me Soleil. I answered an ad. "Galaxy Now Forming, Stars Needed." The ad made it look real easy. Just sit around, make hydrogen into helium. Have everyone look up to you. Have a career where you can really shine. And I always thought I had what it took to be a star, you know. I was young, I had great big clouds of hydrogen. The actual triggering event was the tragic death of a star right in our own neighborhood. This shocked me and a lot of other large young gas regions into several new stages of development. It totally changed our future. Ironically, many of us eventually decided we wanted to become stars ourselves.

Question 2 from CELIAS (Charge, Element, and Isotope Analysis System, Universitaet Bern, Switzerland):
Soleil, your future must be so very bright. We have had the please of observing you for the past 13 years!

Soleil, our Sun:
Well it's not so easy being a star. First of all, you have to be made of the right stuff. And not only spunk and perseverance, also 75% hydrogen and 25% helium. But I have all that. It's the work schedule that's really impossible. 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, you really can't take a day off without people getting annoyed. And yes, SOHO has been with me for a little bit. I hear I will get some more company soon. There is some big space buzz going around about these three crazy instruments on SDO making their way up here. Well, I guess I am the Star!

Question 3 from COSTEP (Comprehensive Suprathermal and Energetic Particle Analyzer, University of Kiel, German):
Before we started our work with you, we got tested and more tested. Are there any special calls you had to be part of?

Soleil, our Sun:
Yes, luminosity class. Of course, I wanted to be in the first class, but it turned out that was only for the brightest super-stars: the industry giants. It turns out I was put at the bottom. Class five. The other classes all made fun of us. "Dwarf stars" they would call us. I felt bad at first, but then realized that I am still doing so much good stuff. I mean, look at planet Earth and how I have helped them?!

Question 4 from EIT (Extreme ultraviolet Imaging Telescope, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, USA):
How did you do in your spectral studies?

Soleil, our Sun:
Not very well. I wasn't in the hottest class there either. I thought I had "A" potential, but after a while I was afraid they would give me an "F". But it even got worse: "F" wasn't low enough for me. I got a "G". Oh, I felt bad for a while, I went through a real solar minimum. But soon I found out lots of stars get "G's"; or even lower. Turns out "G's" out-number "A's" 30 to 1.

Question 5 from ERNE (Energetic and Relativistic Nuclei and Electron experiment, University of Turku, Finland):
Are you happy with your home galaxy: the Milky Way?

Soleil, our Sun:
Well, when I signed on, I though we were going places. I thought we would take on the universe, as a team. Adventure, action, 100 billion stars, all together in one galactic union. Now that, I thought, was power. But all we ever do is go in circles. I've been around the center 60 times or so, it's no big deal. Spiral arms - one millennium you're in them - the next you're out - they're fickle. The Andromeda galaxy is really no better; it's the same story there. Now the Virgo Cluster - that's where all the local action turned out to be. I mean the Milky Way is OK and everything. It's a little dusty, I guess, but at least it's stable. We haven't been disrupted by any other galaxies or anything. We even have our little groupies: the Magellanic Clouds, galaxies like that. It's home.

Question 6 from GOLF (Global Oscillations at Low Frequencies, Institute d’Astrophysique Spatiale, France):
When did you decide to take on planets?

Soleil, our Sun:
Very early in life, although I'm not exactly sure when - that part of my life was very nebulous. I didn't really plan to have planets because I never had a steady companion. They just sort of spun off of my care-free early life style. At first I didn’t really know what to do. I decided to just be myself. Some are closer, others are much further away. I enjoy them all. The planet you guys came from seems to be my favorite. There is alway something going on and every so often, I see people leaving it and spending time in Space. I admire the fact that people want to learn about Space, about the stars and the Universe.

Question 7 from LASCO (Large Angle and Spectrometric Coronagraph, Naval Research Laboratory, USA and Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, Germany):
Do you have trouble keeping the planets in line?

Soleil, our Sun:
I'll say. I thought it would be easy - I'm hundreds of times bigger than they are. Have some planets, they said, they won't perturb you much. But they're running rings around me. Mercury won't keep to a Newtonian orbit - the darn thing's precessing all over the place. Uranus fell over. Jupiter's getting all spotty. Saturn has ring-around-the-collar. And Earth: please turn down your radio; the emission is much too loud, the other planets are complaining.

Question 8 from MDI (Michelson Doppler Imager, Stanford University, USA):
Big fan of yours! In fact, my scientists and engineers built another version of me, just much more modern and named him HMI. He and two other instruments, AIA and EVE, will be launching soon to continue looking at you. We are kind of stalking you. Sorry, my question is, do you have any complaints?

Soleil, our Sun:
Well, there is one: privacy. I know that when you become a star you give up a lot of personal privacy. But what happened was ridiculous. There are people looking at me at all times of the day. And they're not just looking, they're using telescopes. Big telescopes. They look at my back, my front; no place is sacred. Privacy is really a problem. And sometimes I break out in those unsightly sunspots. You know, those dark magnetic depressions. You would hope they would look the other way, save me some embarrassment. No way. They take pictures. It's incredible. I break out in sunspots and next thing I know I'm on the cover of Astronomy Magazine or something. And you know what really gets me? Sometimes I can't help myself. Sometimes I accidentally let go of a little gas. It's natural, it happens to everybody. "Solar Flares" [actually, "coronal mass ejections"] they call them. They make movies of them. They tell their friends. Soon everyone is watching. I'm so embarrassed.

Question 9 from SUMER (Solar Ultraviolet Measurements of Emitted Radiation, Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, Germany):
This bothers you?

Soleil, our Sun:
Oh yeah. Sometimes I get little mad. I think of implementing a little photon tax. Not much, just a penny or two per photon, or something like that. Just to let you know I'm here. Get a little respect once in a while. I could go on strike, you know. A few months without sunshine and the people would ante-up. Or a big burst of coronal mass ejections and take out a power grid or two.

Question 10 from SWAN (Solar Wind Anisotropies, FMI, Finland & Service d’Aeronomie, France):
Soleil, how do you get along with the other stars in the solar neighborhood?

Soleil, our Sun:
Pretty well. I don't interact with them as much as I used to. Sometimes we joke around, throw some snowballs at each other. But I'll tell you though, they're not happy with the privacy situation either. They claim that when you guys aren't looking at me during the day, you're looking at them at night. And with even bigger telescopes. Don't you ever stop? They know about Hubble’s big eyes and call Hubble “Peeping Tom”. Then there is SOFIA, which flies around, opens its doors and looks at other stars with this big mirror.

Question 11 from UVCS (Ultraviolet Coronagraph Spectrometer, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, USA):
We will soon retire, but what’s in the future for you?

Soleil, our Sun:
Well, I'm not really so unhappy with my present job. It's a steady gig. Maybe in a few billion years I'll apply for Red Giant status. I don't have the helium yet. That's the key to being a good Red Giant - helium. But I'm saving up what I have. I'll get there. After that I'll probably just retire. Fade away slowly. Nothing like Brutus - he was crazy.

Question 12 from VIRGO (Variability of Solar Irradiance and Gravity Oscillations, Institut d’Astrophysique Spatiale, France):
Dear Soleil, we would like to thank you for all those years of warmth and sunlight. I think I speak for all the Solar Missions in space and on Earth, all the scientists and the whole planet when I say we're really grateful. Is there anything you wish to request of the people of Earth?

Soleil, our Sun:
Yes. Batteries. This fusion stuff is not going to last forever. Please send me 200 billion batteries. Didn't you people read the instruction manual? Size "Double D". And not those cheapies you find on sale. Also a neutrino generator. One of mine seems to be on the blink. And lastly, please use sun screen protection. I know your skin is sensitive and I try to be careful but my rays are just very powerful. Be safe and be smart. Never look directly at me without proper eye protection. I am very strong and really don't want to hurt anybody. And lastly, I would like you to vote for SOHO in
NASA's Mission Madness. SOHO has helped you understand some of my internal processes, taught you the origin of solar wind (blushing) and help predict Space Weather. Go, vote, have fun and know that I'll be back up again tomorrow and the next day.

--- end of interview ---

By Robert J. Nemiroff
Copyright © 1987 by Robert J. Nemiroff.
Used with permission.
Additional questions and answers by Little SDO HMI.

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