Submission from the UK Solar Physics Community
UK Solar Physics (UKSP) is the body representing
UK scientists engaged in solar physics, the study of the basic
physical workings of the Sun. Solar physics addresses all parts
of the Sun, from the fusion power source in its deep interior
to the origin and evolution of the surface disturbances and radiation
that affect Earth's near-space environment (space weather). UKSP
represents UK scientists at all career stages, in Universities
and in Government laboratories. This submission reflects our very
deep concern at the 2008-11 Comprehensive Spending Review and
the STFC Delivery Plan. These will seriously affect the UK's national
capacity and international leadership in Solar Physics, Space
Physics and Solar Terrestrial Physics (STP).
1. Solar Physics is the study of the fundamental
physical processes governing our star. Conditions on Earth, including
climate conditions, are to varying degrees sensitive to the everyday
radiation output of the Sun, and on its magnetic field (which
shields the solar system from external influences). These vary
on timescales of years, and are constantly monitored. Frequent
but intermittent violent solar activity (solar flares and mass
ejections) drives or moderates all aspects of space weather, known
to cause serious damage to satellites, global communication systems
and power grids. Solar physics is a necessary component of space
weather prediction, without which manned exploration of the solar
system is manifestly more dangerous. Therefore studying the basic
physics of the Sun has obvious environmental, security and socio-economic
2. The Sun provides a unique laboratory
for studying the basic properties of plasmas, the "fourth
state of matter", under conditions not currently achievable
on Earth. This plays an important part in our understanding of
laboratory-based controlled fusion reactors, an environmentally
friendly, realistic solution to our future energy requirements
with paramount international interest.
3. Solar Physics is closely related to both
Astronomy and Solar Terrestrial Physics (STP). The Sun is the
only star in the Universe close enough to study in detail, therefore
providing invaluable, and in many aspects the only insight into
the working of other stars and astrophysical objects.
4. The Sun's proximity and its evident effect
on human activities, means that solar physics and STP is a highly
effective topic for scientific dialogue with the public.
5. The International Review of UK Physics
and Astronomy Research 2005 stated,
"UK researchers have an exceptionally strong
standing in solar physics as well as space-based and ground-based
space physics. The UK has a world-leading role in helioseismology,
dynamo theory, coronal activity, magnetic reconnection, and shock
physics, thus covering many of the important aspects of the Sun-Earth
This strong standing exists in all disciplines
of solar physics ranging from satellite and ground-based instrumentation
design, data collection and analysis, to the development of fundamental
theory. UKSP punches well above its weight in internationally
leading research, and for a relatively modest investment.
6. Continued understanding of the Sun and
its frequent dynamic energy releases will be essential for controlling
the radiation hazard for future Lunar base and Mars Mission astronauts.
Thus, maintaining a strong solar physics base is in the UK is
essential for the success of these future endeavours.
7. The diversity of research carried out
in solar physics, ranging from instrument development and design
to data stream communications, image processing and supercomputing
techniques, provides a positive economic impact on UK high-tech
industries. Many of our graduates go on to apply these skills
in the Telecommunications, Space, Defence, Financial and Medical
8. The funding settlement for the STFC has
resulted in a shortfall of £80 million compared to the level
required to fulfil its responsibilities over the next three years.
By cutting this fundamental research the UK Solar Physics community,
which currently has a strong and leading international standing,
will be seriously disadvantaged. We will not be able to exploit
the full benefits of our ESA membership.
9. Reductions of this magnitude will result
in a serious cut in grants to universities and will undermine
the effectiveness of UK research and the future recruitment of
science students at all levels, including postgraduate students,
for the foreseeable future. It will reduce the national capacity
to innovate and generate commercially competitive technology that
depends directly or indirectly, on advances in physics and astronomy.
Such a loss of capacity in terms of laboratory facilities and
personnel will damage not only our current research programmes
but compromise future participation in space science.
10. Solar physics and solar-terrestrial
physics are closely allied disciplines and both are necessary
for developing a physical understanding of space physics and a
predictive capacity for space weather. Therefore UKSP supports
the request from our sister discipline to halt the withdrawal
from their ground-based facilities.
11. We recommend that:
(1) The Select Committee takes a long-term
view of the importance of Solar Physics and Space Physics for
continued recruitment, education and knowledge exchange within
the UK. With this in mind adequate funding should be made available
by Government so that the UK continues to meet its present commitments.
(2) All proposed cuts within STFC be put
on immediate hold until the findings of the Wakeham Review are
published and a proper review of UK Space Physics reported. In
fact, to retain our international leading position an increase
of funding is required.
(3) Proper engagement, engendering trust
and understanding, must occur between the management of STFC and
all areas of the scientific community that it represents.
(4) Funding is restored for research, education
and training that is adequate to maintain international leadership
in solar, solar-terrestrial, and space physics.