The Sun is the astrophysical object which has the greatest impact on Earth. It has been known since Ancient times that it generates cycles of day-night and movements of masses of air, that it controls the photosynthesis of plants and, in sum, life on Earth. But more recently, and as our society becomes more technical, we have learned that the Sun is also responsible for controlling the weather in space, the atmospheric conditions outside the Earth’s atmosphere. In this zone, the tenuous interplanetary medium is dominated by solar storms. These storms are of magnetic origin and release energies unimaginable on Earth. One of the objectives of research into solar physics and of space agencies is to be able to predict these storms, which can give rise to short circuits in satellites or impede communication with planes on polar routes.
Two requisites are necessary for an understanding of weather in space: observing the details of the solar surface and getting closer to the Sun in order to understand how magnetic storms are formed. In Spain we are taking part in two vast projects that address these objectives, the stratospheric balloon SUNRISE and the European Space Agency’s Solar Orbiter mission. Both projects will be presented in detail, expaining the advances in our knowledge of solar magnetism, what is expected of them and their technological implications.
SUNRISE flew over the Artic circle during the Summer of 2009, observing the solar surface in a level of detail never seen before. The success of this mission has allowed a second flight to be proposed for the Summer of 2013, during the maximum solar activity. The Solar Orbiter mission has recently been approved by the ESA and will be launched into an orbit that will take it to the same distance from the Sun as the planet Mercury, from where it will have a unique view of the solar processes and their effects on the star’s surroundings.
The space era has meant a giant leap in the future of human exploration. Once the barrier of terrestrial gravity is surpassed, there seems to be no limits to disseminate across the Solar System. But this is far from truth , because the technology needed and the high cost still keep us away from this goal. Effectively, although it has already 5 decades of life and more than a hundred robotic missions have been done, the exploration of the Solar System is still at is most early infancy. There have been expeditions towards the most diverse destination. Planets and moons, asteroids and comets, and even the vicinity of the Sun are visited by singular emissaries. These space ships are a source of exceptional information that not even the most powerful telescopes in Earth, nor the systems in orbit, could ever substitute. These small robotic explorers, thanks to advances scientific instrumentation, transmit data that are key for the comprehension of the Solar System and of our own planet.
In the conference we will present the first steps of space exploration, the advantages of robotic missions in comparison to manned missions, and the special case of the lunar exploration. Also, we will review the current knowledge that the ships beyond the Earth-Moon system have provided, including those that have reached the limits of the Solar System. Finally, we will address in detail the peculiar exploration of Mars. Half a hundred missions attempting to anticipate the next big milestone of the history of Humanity: our arrival to the Red Planet.