Space is not empty - the Earth bathes in the solar wind  (credit: NASA)

Space is not empty - the Earth bathes in the solar wind (credit: NASA)

Interplanetary Science

Space is not the empty void that it is often assumed to be. The heat produced by the Sun cause the outer layers of its atmosphere to stream outwards through the solar system. This is known as the solar wind. The crucial difference is that, unlike most of the gases that surround us on Earth, the solar wind is made up of plasma, gas that has been split into positive and negative electrically charged particles. As a result, the solar wind is electrically conductive. Although tenuous, the solar wind sweeps remnants of the Sun’s massive magnetic field outward through interplanetary space, extending the reach of our star throughout the solar system. Interplanetary space is also the realm of meteoroids, asteroids and comets, the 'wanderers' of the solar system.

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?Space weather? can pose a hazard to astronauts (credit: NASA)

Space weather

Just a tiny fraction of the matter and energy hurled out into space by the Sun is intercepted by the Earth, but that fraction is all we need. And sometimes it?s almost too much. Earth?s magnetic field...

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The Renazzo carbonaceous chondrite meteorite - one of the meteorites that the Open University are currently studying (credit: NASA)

Stones from the sky

Meteorites are rocks that arrive on the Earth?s surface from interplanetary space. Most are fragments of debris from the asteroid belt, but some, much rarer, meteorites are from the Moon and even Mar...

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Ground-based radars are being used to monitor the growing cloud of space debris that surrounds our planet (image: EISCAT Scientific Association)

Monitoring the space scrapheap

Did you think space was empty? Think again! The flotsam and jetsam left over from spacecraft launches, dead satellites and the wreckage generated by collisions between satellites and other pieces of s...

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