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Scientists have discovered something on the Sun we’ve never seen before: a strange new class of jets on its surface that may help explain the mysterious origin of the solar wind, a stream of charged particles that blows heavily across our planetary system. Makes an impact, reports a new study.
Solar Orbiter, a spacecraft launched in 2020 by the European Space Agency, observed small bursts of plasma near the Sun’s south pole from a distance of only 28 million miles, which is closer than the orbit of Mercury.
These newly found “picoflare jets” are on the scale of a few hundred miles and they only fire for 20 to 100 seconds, making them invisible to previous missions. But although they are small features relative to the Sun, their cumulative effect can seriously affect the solar wind, a phenomenon that scientists have struggled to explain for decades.
The solar wind is made up of charged particles such as electrons and protons, which escape from the Sun’s outermost atmosphere, known as the corona, through holes that open up in the solar magnetic field. These particles interact with objects in the Solar System, including Earth, and generate auroras, geomagnetic storms, and many other phenomena. But while the solar wind is an essential component of our local system, scientists are not sure what precise mechanisms underlie this dominant force.
Now, a team led by solar physicist Lakshmi Pradeep Chitta of the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research has discovered a missing piece of this puzzle in images captured by Solar Orbiter in March 2022. observed picoflare jets inside a “coronal hole” on the Sun, an opening in the magnetic field that allows matter to escape. According to a study published on Thursday, the team believes that the jets may be an important driver of the solar wind. Science,
“Coronal holes are regions on the Sun with open magnetic field lines,” Chitta and his colleagues said in the study. “They are the source region of the solar wind, but how the wind escapes from coronal holes is not known.”
“We observed a coronal hole using the Extreme Ultraviolet Imager on the Solar Orbiter spacecraft,” the researchers continued, adding, “The jets reach speeds of about 60 miles per second and capture the “picoflare” range of kinetic energy.” “We suggest that such picoflare jets can produce plasma with temperatures high enough to sustain the solar wind and that the wind escapes from coronal holes in the form of small-scale highly intermittent outflows.”
Scientists have long suspected that the solar wind is supercharged with material that spews out coronal holes, but a more robust reading of this process requires a closer look at an object that is notoriously difficult to study Is: Sun. Solar Orbiter is part of a new generation of sophisticated solar observatories, including NASA’s Parker Solar Probe and Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope, which aims to stare down our star and uncover some of its most persistent mysteries, including the mechanics of the solar wind. ,
Picoflare jets observed by Solar Orbiter appear to erupt when magnetic field lines inside the corona suddenly “reconnect” to a more stable configuration, an event that produces dazzling flashes of light and energy. It’s basically a smaller-scale version of the same “magnetic reconnection” that triggers solar flares and coronal mass ejections, which are stormy explosions on the Sun that can wreak havoc on spacecraft and electronic infrastructure on Earth.
Although picoflare jets have only been observed in a coronal hole, the explosions can supply enormous amounts of charged material and heat to the solar wind, assuming they are present in holes in the Sun. Future observations may reveal more about these short-lived jets and their role in the solar wind, which may reveal new insights about the bright mystery at the center of our solar system.