The SHIELD DRIVE Science Center, one of the three DRIVE centers funded through the NASA/SMD Heliophysics Division to study breakthrough problems that require a center funding, is studying the protective bubble around the Sun. This bubble formed by the wind emanated from the Sun, extends well out past the planetary orbits, is called the “heliosphere” and it is very similar to other “astrospheres” that we observe around many other stars. Because our heliosphere filters the interstellar dust and ionizing galactic radiation originating from nearby events such as supernova, it has a significant impact on the habitability of Earth and the space environment around it. Our heliosphere might have been much smaller in the distant past, exposing the Earth to the more hostile environment of the interstellar medium and affecting the evolution of life. SHIELD is a collaboration among researchers at nearly a dozen institutions using observations, theory and modeling to build a sophisticated computer model of our heliosphere to better understand and predict its effects over time. Our understanding of the Sun’s protective bubble will help us manage the risks of long time interplanetary travel (where the galactic radiation is the number one risk) and may shed light on the habitability of planets orbiting other stars.

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