Solar Physics

, Volume 287, Issue 1–2, pp 9–41 | Cite as

What Have We Learned from Helioseismology, What Have We Really Learned, and What Do We Aspire to Learn?

  • Douglas GoughEmail author


Helioseismology has been widely acclaimed as having been a great success: it appears to have answered nearly all the questions that we originally asked, some with unexpectedly high precision. We have learned how the sound speed and matter density vary throughout almost all of the solar interior – something which not so very long ago was generally considered to be impossible – we have learned how the Sun rotates, and we have a beautiful picture, on a coffee cup, of the thermal stratification of a sunspot, and also an indication of the material flow around it. We have tried, with some success at times, to apply our findings to issues of broader relevance: the test of the General Theory of Relativity via planetary orbit precession (now almost forgotten because the issue has convincingly been closed, albeit no doubt temporarily) the solar neutrino problem, the manner of the transport of energy from the centre to the surface of the Sun, the mechanisms of angular-momentum redistribution, and the workings of the solar dynamo. The first two were of general interest to the broad scientific community beyond astronomy, and were, quite rightly, principally responsible for our acclaimed success; the others are still in a state of flux.


Helioseismology, heliophysics Solar neutrinos General relativity Solar opacity Equation of state 



I am grateful to Jørgen Christensen-Dalsgaard, Werner Däppen, Günter Houdek, and Sasha Kosovichev for interesting discussion. I thank Jeannette Gilbert and Paula Younger for typing the first draft of this paper, Günter Houdek for providing Figure 4, and Amanda Smith for her help in producing Figures 1 and 6. I thank the Leverhulme Trust for an Emeritus Fellowship, and P.H. Scherrer for support from HMI NASA contract NAS5-02139. This article has benefited from comments on the first draft by the referee who raised the matter of the reliability of the equation of state.


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of AstronomyCambridgeUK
  2. 2.Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical PhysicsCentre for Mathematical SciencesCambridgeUK
  3. 3.Physics DepartmentStanford UniversityStanfordUSA

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