Corkscrew waves on Sun may help solve solar mystery

March 20th, 2009 - 2:37 pm ICT by ANI  

National Geographic

Washington, March 20 (ANI): New pictures have revealed that mysterious corkscrew waves appear to be pushing heat from the suns surface to its outer atmosphere, which could help solve the mystery of how the sun is able to heat its atmosphere to millions of degrees hotter than its surface.

According to a report in National Geographic News, the pictures were taken with the help of the Swedish Solar Telescope in the Canary Islands.

The telescope was used to watch the motion of bright spots in the suns atmosphere that correspond to the release of millions of degrees of heat.

These are vast, vast areas on the surface of the sun, said study co-author David Jess, a solar physicist at Queens University Belfast in Ireland.

Each spot spans about 267,190 square miles (430,000 square kilometers), twice the size of the United Kingdom, but minuscule compared with the total area of the sun, he added.

The spots are common over the suns surface, especially during energetic phases of the stars 11-year cycles of high and low activity, Jess said.

Each bright spot represents a place where the suns magnetic field lines form clusters that guide so-called Alfven waves into the atmosphere, according to the researchers.

First proposed in the 1940s, Alfven waves were finally detected in 2007, in solar plasmas.

But, a mystery remained: Are the observed waves purely magnetic or magneto-acoustic?

Magnetic waves would move in a corkscrew fashion, while magneto-acoustic waves would move back and forth like sound waves from a plucked guitar string.

The waves seen by the research team traveled at more than twice the speed of sound, moving through the suns surface layers for just a few moments, on average, before spilling their energy into the thin outer layers of the atmosphere.

This creates the bright spots, which twisted left and right like corkscrews, possibly proving that Alfven waves are magnetic, Jess said.

The finding may eventually allow scientists to use Alfven waves to revolutionize Earths energy needs.

Now that we know how the sun uses Alfven waves, we may be able to reproduce them in power plants to distribute energy from fusionan as-yet uncontrollable form of nuclear power created when two atoms fuse together, Jess said. (ANI)

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