2024 Total Solar Eclipse big topic during discussion of NASA’s Heliophysics Big Year

The total solar eclipse naturally dominated a lively next-day discussion about NASA’s Helophysics Big Year, presented April 9, 2024, during the Space Science track of the 39th Annual Space Symposium

Joe Westlake, Director of the NASA Heliophysics Division, and Jim Kinnison, formulation area manager within the Space Exploration Sector, Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, expounded upon the “amazing science” highlighted by the Heliophysics Big Year, a program that NASA describes as a “global celebration of the Sun’s influence on Earth and the entire solar system.”

The Heliophysics Big Year kicked off with the annular solar eclipse on October 14, 2023, ramped up with the April 2024 total solar eclipse and will culminate on December 24, 2024, with the Parker Solar Probe’s closest approach to the Sun.

Westlake’s and Kinnison’s talk touched on an array of additional subjects including the 2024 Heliophysics Decadal Survey, current missions like the Geospace Dynamics Constellation mission, upcoming launches, next-generation solar telescope capabilities, and the growing intersection between heliophysics and commercial space activities.

Westlake named increasing public awareness the impetus behind the creation of The Heliophysics Big Year. Noting that we are currently in the solar maximum phase of our solar cycle, Westlake said, “We’re in that period, every 11 years, where the Sun is very active, it’s a little ornery, it’s a little excited…”. NASA’s Heliophysics Big Year activities aim to make that excitement contagious.