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Current Affairs

NASA probe reveals secrets about solar winds

Date: 06 December 2019 Tags: Space

Issue

New data from a NASA probe’s close encounters with the sun are giving scientists unique insight about the solar wind and space weather.

 

Background

Researchers described the first published findings from the Parker Solar Probe, a spacecraft launched in 2018 to journey closer to the sun than any other human-made object.

 

Details

  • The probe ventured as close as 15 million miles (24 million km) to the sun to gather the data used in the studies.

  • The probe eventually will travel within about 4 million miles (6 million km) from the sun's surface, seven times closer than any previous spacecraft.

  • The findings offer fresh details about how the sun spawns space weather, are reshaping astronomers’ understanding of violent solar wind that can hamper satellites and electronics on Earth.

  • The probe is flying through the outermost part of the sun's atmosphere, called the solar corona that gives rise to solar wind, the hot, energised, charged particles that stream outward from the Sun and fill the solar system.

  • Oscillations in the speed of these charged particles beaming outward from the solar corona have previously been thought to dissipate gradually.

  • One of the probe's “really big surprises” was the detection of sudden, abrupt spikes in the speed of the solar wind that were so violent that the magnetic field flips itself around, a phenomenon called “switchbacks”.

Solar winds

The solar wind is a stream of charged particles released from the upper atmosphere of the Sun, called the corona.

The composition of the solar wind plasma also includes a mixture of materials found in the solar plasma: trace amounts of heavy ions and atomic nuclei C, N, O, Ne, Mg, Si, S, and Fe.