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FEATURE ARTICLE

The Galactic Environment of the Sun

The heliosphere appears to protect the inner solar system from the vagaries of the interstellar medium

Priscilla Frisch

The stuff between the stars—the interstellar medium—is far from being a homogeneous substrate. Astronomers have discovered that interstellar material is organized into clouds of gas and dust, exhibiting a broad range of temperatures, densities and compositions. Over the course of millions of years our sun passes through a variety of interstellar clouds, and it is now clear that the solar system must have experienced a broad range of galactic environments during its 5-billion-year history. The solar wind produced by the sun forms a heliosphere that protects the inner part of the solar system from the vagaries of our galactic milieu. Astronomer Priscilla Frisch describes what we know about our local galactic environment and about the dynamic interplay between interstellar material and the heliosphere.


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