Even those not engaged in solar physics will have noticed a huge increase in space observations of the solar atmosphere over the past few years. The last ten years especially have seen several notable space missions launched by NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA), the Japanese and Russian space agencies, and several other organizations, among which have been the Yohkoh and RHESSI X-ray spacecraft, SOHO, TRACE, and CORONAS-F which have on board high-resolution instruments working in the extreme ultraviolet spectrum, and most recently the Hinode and STEREO missions, both launched in late 2006, all of which are making spectacular observations in the visible, ultraviolet, and soft X-ray regions. Major contributions to our knowledge have also been made by rocket-borne instruments such as SERTS and EUNIS, working in the extreme ultraviolet.
The increase in our understanding of the solar atmosphere giving rise to this emission has been enormous as a direct result of studying the data from these instruments. We have built on the knowledge gained from previous large solar missions such as the Skylab mission and Solar Maximum Mission to develop models for the solar atmosphere and for phenomena such as flares and coronal mass ejections. However, to the dismay of some but the excitement of most, we are now presented with a picture of the solar atmosphere that is far more dynamic and complex than we ever expected from early spacecraft or ground-based telescopes. Consequently, it has really been the case that as fast as we solve some problems, others are created that will obviously need great ingenuity in finding satisfactory physical explanations.