A career in space physics involves studying plasmas as they occur naturally in the universe. The field can be traced back the ancient Chinese, who discovered a correlation between two plasmas: solar wind and the ionosphere. The ionosphere is ionized by solar radiation and solar wind is the stream of charged particles ejected by the upper atmosphere of the sun. The increase in solar wind from sunspots, which follows an 11-year cycle, causes the auroras. Jobs in this area would overlap with jobs in geophysics because of the magnetosphere, which is where the magnetic field of Earth (and the other magnetized planets) controls the motion of gas and fast charged particles. Cosmic rays are energetic particles, mostly protons, originating from outer space and is a subject matter in space physics Some cosmic particles have energies much greater than the energies produced by particle accelerators. Also included as a plasma is synchrotron radiation, which is produced when relativistic electrons travel in curved paths because of an external magnetic field. Such radiation has unique properties because of its polarization and spectrum. It might be included in the job description of a space scientist because astronomical objects generate this kind of plasma.
A career as a space physicist would likely involve knowing about space weather, the operation of communication systems, and weather satellites. There are job opportunities at National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the European Space Agency, which has jointly launched a spacecraft (Solar and Heliospheric Observatory—SOHO) to obtain solar data for space weather predictions. A variety of physical phenomena are associated with space weather, including geomagnetic storms and ionospheric disturbances that can damage electronics onboard spacecraft and threaten the life of astronauts. The Satellite Industry Association (Washington, D.C.) has as over 30 major companies as members (The Boeing Company, Hughes Network Systems, DirectTV, Loral Space and Communications, etc.) and has jobs for many space physicists. Space physics is different from astrophysics because it deals with data obtained from high altitude rockets and spacecraft.
There are many job opportunities at NASA, which has a budge of $17.6 billion and 17, 900 employees. NASA's ongoing investigations include in-depth surveys of Mars and Saturn and studies of the Earth and the Sun. NASA spacecraft are presently en route to Mercury and Pluto. With missions to Jupiter in planning stages, NASA's itinerary covers over half the solar system. There is also a plan to send astronauts to the Moon by 2018.
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