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MIT Space Plasma Group

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The MIT Space Plasma Group was founded by Professor Herbert Bridge and Professor Bruno Rossi. Professor Stan Olbert was the theoretical backbone of the group as it flew instruments on numerous space missions to study the solar wind, beginning with its first in situ measurement with Explorer 10 in 1961. The group's current staff consists of John Belcher , John Richardson , and Leslie Finck . Recent former members of the group include John T. Steinberg , George S. Gordon , Chi Wang , Matthias R. Aellig , Slobodan Jurac , Dorian E. Clack , Justin Ashmall , Ying Liu , Justin Kasper , Michael Stevens , Pamela Milligan , and Anne MacAskill . We honor the memory of our colleagues Karolen Paularena (1957-2001), Alan J. Lazarus (1931-2014) and Stanislaw Olbert (1923-2017) .

The group developed the instruments on three active spacecraft, Voyager 2 , WIND , and NOAA's DSCOVR (Deep Space Climate Observatory) . These instruments are Faraday cup detectors which detect plasma (hydrogen and helium ions) with energies less than 10 keV. DSCOVR's Faraday cup is named in honor of Alan Lazarus.

Voyager 2 is beyond all the Sun's planets and has passed through the heliopause into the local interstellar medium.

Both WIND and DSCOVR spacecraft are in orbits around the L1 point (between Earth and the Sun). Beginning Summer 2015, responsibility for WIND plasma data has moved to the Harvard Smithsonian Astrophysics Lab, and current data can be accessed at wind.nasa.gov .

Historic data from the IMP 8 spacecraft cover the period from the launch of the spacecraft in 1973 until its demise in October 2006.

A plot illustrating the changes of the solar wind plasma as it moves away from the Sun is shown below.

Solar Wind Observations by Voyager 2
and IMP 8 (at 1 AU)

IMP 8 and Voyager 2 comparison

Figure Caption: This plot shows solar wind plasma from IMP 8 in Earth orbit (black line), while Voyager 2 moves from the Sun out to 72 AU (red line). The data shown are 50-day running averages. The Voyager 2 data are time-shifted to 1 AU using a 50-day running average of the solar wind speed measured by Voyager. Densities are normalized to 1 AU by multiplying by Voyager's distance squared.

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