The blast of whip-cracking energy from the sun could explain the solar wind

Scientists have picked up the first direct evidence that the sun’s magnetic field is rapidly shifting, which may help explain the mysterious force that moves particles through our solar system.

A solar flare captured by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory in intense ultraviolet light.  Here we see a fiery orange and black orb, and at some point a hot white explosion occurs.

A solar flare captured by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory in intense ultraviolet light. Here we see a fiery orange and black orb, and at some point a hot white explosion occurs.

The researchers observed this phenomenon using the Solar Orbiter probe, which was developed by the European Space Agency (ESA) and operated jointly with NASA. The probe, which launched into a close orbit around the Sun in February 2020, detected anomalies in our star’s magnetic field in March of this year. Using the Metis vertebra to block the glare of the Sun’s disk and focus on its edges, the probe captured images of a bewildering S-shaped curvature of the fragile tendril of plasma flowing from the Sun’s corona or upper atmosphere.

Scientists say the S-shaped torsion is evidence that the Sun’s magnetic field has suddenly reversed – a long-postulated process known as magnetic switching. Previously, spacecraft such as the Helios 1 and 2 probe and NASA’s Parker Solar Probe have detected indirect evidence of switches in the Sun’s magnetic field, but this is the first time that direct, visible evidence of a bounce has been captured. The researchers published their findings on September 12 in Astrophysical Journal Letters.

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“I would like to say that this first image of a magnetic return in the solar corona has revealed the mystery of its origin,” lead author Danielle Teloni, an astrophysicist at the Turin Astrophysics Observatory of the National Institute of Astrophysics in Italy, said in a statement. .

The Solar Orbiter made a crooked image on March 25, just a day before it made a close flyby of the sun resulting in the probe entering Mercury’s orbit. After comparing the image with a simultaneous image taken from the surface of the Sun, scientists realized that an S-shaped torsion appeared over a sunspot.

Sunspots are darker, cooler spots on the Sun where strong knotted magnetic fields are created by the flow of electrically charged Sun plasma. These fields, in turn, can affect the plasma in different ways, depending on whether they form open or closed loops.

Closed magnetic fields appear from one point on the surface of the Sun and sink back in at another point, forming huge, twisting arcs of electrified gas above the star. When these filaments collapse, they can release bursts of radiation called solar flares and release explosive jets of solar material called coronal mass ejections (CMEs). Open magnetic field lines behave differently; It extends far into space and is connected to the solar system’s magnetic field, creating a high-speed interplanetary highway through which particles from the Sun (the solar wind) can flow for billions of miles.

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On planets with strong magnetic fields, like ours, the planet’s magnetic field or magnetosphere absorbs a shower of solar debris from the solar wind, resulting in strong geomagnetic storms. During these storms on Earth, waves of high-energy particles compress our magnetic field slightly. The particles then trickle down magnetic field lines near the poles and irritate the particles in the atmosphere, releasing energy in the form of light to form colorful auroras, like those that make up the aurora borealis.

The researchers believe that switching processes occur over sunspots where closed field lines break and connect to open lines. Much like cracking a whip, this releases a burst of energy as an S-shaped backswitch is sent out into space.

Evidence for these bounces could help scientists understand how pockets of the solar wind are able to accelerate and heat up even when they are far from the sun.

“This is exactly the outcome we were hoping for with Solar Orbiter,” Daniel Muller, ESA project scientist for Solar Orbiter, said in the statement. “With each orbit, we get more data from our group of ten instruments. Based on results like these, we will fine-tune the planned observations of the Solar Orbiter’s upcoming solar encounter to understand the way the Sun relates to the broader magnetic environment of the Solar System. This was the first pass The Solar Orbiter is very close to the Sun, so we expect more exciting results in the future.”

Originally published on Live Science.