February 3, 2023

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Plasma grids on the sun. Finally got to see them

Since 1995, NOAA has been observing the solar corona using the Large Angle and Coronagraph Spectrometry Instrument (LASCO) aboard the SOHO satellite. Its mission is to monitor space weather that may affect Earth. Unfortunately, the LASCO instrument isn’t perfect — it doesn’t allow observations of the central solar corona, where the solar wind is likely to originate.

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We’ve known about the flow of the solar wind since the 1950s, but its source and structure are shrouded in mystery. While we know the basic processes responsible for their formation, over the years we have conducted research with a significant information gap. Now that will change.
Dr.. Dan Seton of the Southwest Research Institute

Dr. Seton suggested Point another instrument at the Sun – the Solar Ultraviolet Imager (SUVI) on GOES satellites and make month-long UV observations. Scientists have detected elongated, web-like structures in the solar plasma. Reactions within these structures release stored magnetic energy that the solar wind emits.

No one had ever observed what the solar corona was doing in the ultraviolet at such an altitude for such a period of time. We had no idea if it would work or what we’d see. The results were very exciting. For the first time, we have high-quality observations that completely unify our observations of the Sun and the heliosphere as a single system.
Dr. Dan Seaton

New observations could contribute to a better understanding of the Sun, such as NASA and SwRI’s PUNCH (Polarimeter to Unify Corona and Heliosphere) mission, which aims to observe our star’s outer atmosphere and understand how the solar wind forms. The four PUNCH probes are expected to monitor the solar wind and more intense phenomena such as coronal mass ejections (CMEs).

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Now that we can image the sun’s central corona, we can relate what PUNCH is seeing to its origins and get a more complete view of how the solar wind interacts with the rest of the solar system. Prior to these observations, very few people believed that the central halo could be observed at such distances in the ultraviolet. These studies opened up a whole new approach to large-scale corona monitoring.
Dr. Dan Seaton

Details are described in the journal natural astronomy.