B a r b a r a  T h o m p s o n
Solar Physicist
SOHO Mission

I really, really, really could make a wish about what I'd like to know about the Sun, I'd love to know more about what's going on in the interior. We're getting incredible clues as to what's happening but we really don't see much of the inside. We're seeing things on a grand scale and in a couple of cases we've seen some clues-like there was a flare that happened that actually had observable consequences in the solar interior. That is something that we are getting close to understanding. If I could actually see where all this stuff is starting, deep in the Sun, and where all of this stuff is being generated, that is really something that would help my understanding a lot. I'd just be thrilled, because that's where all the solar activity is formed, and that's where the things which emerge are created.

We're doing a wonderful job of observing phenomena, and defining them, and trying to understand their nature, but we really need to hammer down exactly what their nature is. And to do this we need true measurements of temperature, we need measurements of density, we need things that are definite diagnostics. If you're seeing something and you're not really sure that this thing is 3 million degrees or only 5,000 degrees, it's very difficult to understand its nature. That does not sound very exciting, but you start to realize that you cannot understand what drives these things, or even what makes them exist unless you can truly understand what their basic physical structure is. Then you start to respect the importance of really having ambitious missions which are potentially able to answer those questions. We need to know the magnetic field, we need to know density, and we need to know temperature. From 93 million miles away, we're doing a pretty good job of inferring those things, but can't directly measure any of those things. What we really need to be able to do is actually get concrete measurements of those things, and then we can really understand why these things happen and what drives them.

You can do science from day to day, but once in a while you sit back and realize how enormous the Sun is, and that it is an actual star. You're not looking at some little small object, like it looks on the computer screen, this is a whole star! And the thing that I really enjoy studying about the Sun is activity that might influence Earth. There are these enormous eruptions-they go a million to 3 million miles an hour and they can impact Earth. Those are the things I find most interesting because you can actually see the effect of them.

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