We already know (almost) where the solar wind comes from

Although this could mean a lot to achieve the goal, for the study of the solar wind, which plays an increasingly important role in our daily lives, the latest discovery is crucial.

Where does the wind come from on Earth? What we are used to blowing, in the simplest terms, comes from where it blows. It’s a joke of course, but it makes sense. On the other hand, the solar wind comes from the sun, as you can guess from its name. But this time we are not dealing with a flow of air masses due to pressure differences, but with a stream of charged particles, including electrons, protons, and the nuclei of helium atoms, alpha particles. The formation of the solar wind also includes more massive elements that formed in the interior of the sun or were present since the beginning of its existence.

What do we know so far about the solar wind?

The solar wind blows because these particles escaping along the open lines of the magnetic field, that is, from places called coronal holes, reach speeds as high as several hundred kilometers per second, which is faster than the speed of the Parker Solar Probe at its closest approach to the Sun. sun. As a reminder, this vehicle will break the record for approaching the surface of our star on September 27, 2023. After that, it will reach a distance of 7.9 million kilometers, and its speed will then be 176 kilometers per second. However, it was not the NASA probe, but the European Solar Probe that revealed a very important part of the mystery of the origin of the solar wind.

The solar wind is so strong that at more than 160 astronomical units from the sun (one unit is the distance between the Earth and the sun), Voyager 1 can still feel its impact. Scientists speculate that other stars, such as the Sun, also have their own winds, although the possibility of studying such winds is only possible in the case of the Sun. Previous studies of the solar wind did not lead to a complete explanation of the source of the solar wind. We have a working theory, but according to its assumptions, the solar wind is only a unified phenomenon. Meanwhile, observations made by the Solar Orbiter probe in the spring of 2022 forced scientists to rethink this problem. In the video below you can see coronal holes where something is happening that caught the attention of astronomers.

Newly discovered solar wind generation mechanism

In extremely far-ultraviolet images of the Sun’s polar regions (inset image), many small jets of plasma are recorded as they eject from the solar atmosphere. “We were able to detect these tiny drones thanks to the unprecedentedly high resolution and repeatability of the Solar Orbiter images,” said Lakshmi Pradeep Chetta, from the Max Planck Institute in Germany.

The existence of these plasma jets is a perfect addition to the above idea that the solar wind radiates from the sun along magnetic field lines. However, it turns out that not only the continuous flow of matter as a result of the expansion of the solar corona, but also jets of plasma can be the source of the solar wind. In other words, just as we have small winds on Earth, so do the solar winds. These solar storms or jets are very faint. The European Space Agency explains it this way. The most powerful X-class solar flares are trillions of times more powerful than the jets responsible for feeding the cyclical, but irregular, solar wind. However, there are so many of them that observations indicate that they should be considered a significant source of solar wind.

For the average Internet user, the findings of the European Space Agency may seem like art for art’s sake, an insignificant fact, and the answer obtained is laconic. However, the activity of the Sun, of which the solar wind is a manifestation, is something we need to know as much as possible and every little detail brings us closer to it. The future of our civilization is associated with the development of electronics, and its operation can be significantly affected by solar activity. The better we know the mechanisms that determine the sun’s behavior, the better we can protect ourselves from its moods.

What Solar Orbiter has now discovered is just the beginning of unlocking the solar wind’s deepest secrets. In the following years, Solar Orbiter will increasingly tilt its orbit relative to the ecliptic and will be able to better observe the sun’s polar regions.

Source: European Space Agency

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