The results are published in the 7 December issue of the journal Science.
Data from Hinode, a Japanese (JAXA) mission with ESA participation, shows that magnetic waves play a critical role in driving the solar wind into space. The solar wind is a stream of electrically charged gas that is propelled away from the Sun in all directions at speeds of almost 1.5 million km/h. Better understanding of the solar wind may lead to more accurate prediction of damaging radiation waves before they reach satellites.
How the solar wind is formed and powered has been the subject of debate for decades. Powerful magnetic waves in the electrically charged gas near the Sun (called Alfvén waves) have always been a leading-candidate force in the formation of solar wind. In principle, such waves can transfer energy from the Sun's surface up through its atmosphere, or corona, into the solar wind.
In the solar atmosphere, Alfvén waves are created when convective motions and sound waves push magnetic fields around, or when dynamic processes create electrical currents that allow the magnetic fields to change shape or reconnect.
"Until now, Alfvén waves have been impossible to observe because of limited resolution of available instruments," said Alexei Pevtsov, Hinode program scientist, at NASA Headquarters, Washington, USA. "With the help of Hinode, we are now able to see direct evidence of Alfvén waves, which will help us unravel the mystery of how the solar wind is powered."
Using Hinode's high resolution X-ray telescope, a team led by Jonathan Cirtain, a solar physicist at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, Alabama, USA, was able to peer low into the corona at the Sun's poles and observe record numbers of X-ray jets. The jets are fountains of rapidly moving hot plasma. Previous research detected only a few jets daily.
With Hinode's higher sensitivity, Cirtain's team observed an average of 240 jets per day. They conclude that magnetic reconnection, a process where two oppositely charged magnetic fields collide and release energy, is frequently occurring in the low solar corona. This interaction forms both Alfvén waves and the burst of energized plasma in X-ray jets.
"These observations show a clear relationship between magnetic reconnection and Alfvén wave formation in the X-ray jets." said Cirtain. "The large number of jets, coupled with the high speeds of the outflowing plasma, lends further credence to the idea that X-ray jets are a driving force in the creation of the fast solar wind."
Another research team led by Bart De Pontieu, a solar physicist at Lockheed Martin's Solar and Astrophysics Laboratory, California, USA, focused on the Sun's chromosphere, the region sandwiched between the solar surface and its corona. Using extremely high-resolution images from Hinode's Solar Optical Telescope, De Pontieu's team found that the chromosphere is riddled with Alfvén waves. When the waves leak into the corona, they are strong enough to power the solar wind.
"We find that most of these Alfvén waves have periods of several minutes, much longer than many theoretical models have assumed in the past," says De Pontieu. Comparisons with advanced computer simulations from the University of Oslo, Norway, indicate that reconnection is not the only source of the Alfvén waves. "The simulations imply that many of the waves occur when the Sun's magnetic field is jostled around by convective motions and sound waves in the low atmosphere," continued De Pontieu.
More articles from Physics and Astronomy:
A Hidden Population of Exotic Neutron Stars
24.05.2013 | Chandra X-ray Center
Hubble reveals the Ring Nebula’s true shape
24.05.2013 | NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center
This morning at 05:45 CEST, the earth trembled beneath the Okhotsk Sea in the Pacific Northwest. The quake, with a magnitude of 8.2, took place at an exceptional depth of 605 kilometers.
Because of the great depth of the earthquake a tsunami is not expected and there should also be no major damage due to shaking.
Professor Frederik Tilmann of the GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences: "The epicenter is exceptionally deep, far below the earth's crust in the mantle. Such strong ...
The Ring Nebula's distinctive shape makes it a popular illustration for astronomy books. But new observations by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope of the glowing gas shroud around an old, dying, sun-like star reveal a new twist.
"The nebula is not like a bagel, but rather, it's like a jelly doughnut, because it's filled with material in the middle," said C. Robert O'Dell of Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn.
He leads a research team that used Hubble and several ground-based telescopes to obtain the best view yet of ...
New indicator molecules visualise the activation of auto-aggressive T cells in the body as never before
Biological processes are generally based on events at the molecular and cellular level. To understand what happens in the course of infections, diseases or normal bodily functions, scientists would need to examine individual cells and their activity directly in the tissue.
The development of new microscopes and fluorescent dyes in ...
A fried breakfast food popular in Spain provided the inspiration for the development of doughnut-shaped droplets that may provide scientists with a new approach for studying fundamental issues in physics, mathematics and materials.
The doughnut-shaped droplets, a shape known as toroidal, are formed from two dissimilar liquids using a simple rotating stage and an injection needle. About a millimeter in overall size, the droplets are produced individually, their shapes maintained by a surrounding springy material made of polymers.
Droplets in this toroidal shape made ...
Frauhofer FEP will present a novel roll-to-roll manufacturing process for high-barriers and functional films for flexible displays at the SID DisplayWeek 2013 in Vancouver – the International showcase for the Display Industry.
Displays that are flexible and paper thin at the same time?! What might still seem like science fiction will be a major topic at the SID Display Week 2013 that currently takes place in Vancouver in Canada.
High manufacturing cost and a short lifetime are still a major obstacle on ...
24.05.2013 | Life Sciences
24.05.2013 | Ecology, The Environment and Conservation
24.05.2013 | Physics and Astronomy
17.05.2013 | Event News
15.05.2013 | Event News
08.05.2013 | Event News