Jan 21, 2021 - Science

Small structures on the Sun could change space weather

Small details shown on the Sun in an inset, one in gold, one in black and white. The details look like streams

"Plumelets" on the Sun. Image: NASA/SDO/Uritsky, et al

Relatively small structures on the Sun could help govern the solar wind.

Why it matters: Solar wind batters the Earth's magnetic field, and strong solar storms can disrupt satellites and even power grids on the planet. Learning more about how they work will help researchers forecast it in the future.

How it works: Solar wind — which is made of plasma — is propelled into space along the Sun's magnetic field lines.

  • Now, researchers have found smaller "plumelets" that make up bright structures known as plumes not far from the Sun's surface could disrupt the solar wind, having cascading effects out into space, according to a new study in The Astrophysical Journal.
  • “People have seen structure in and at the base of plumes for a while,” NASA's Judy Karpen, one of the authors of the study, said in a statement. “But we’ve found that the plume itself is a bundle of these denser, flowing plumelets, which is very different from the picture of plumes we had before.”
  • The research team found that plumelets also move independently, which could help them figure out more about how even just a few of these small structures contribute to changes in the solar wind.

The big picture: A number of missions launched in recent years are keeping an eye on the Sun, gathering data that could help forecast its weather in the future.

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