Researchers have just made a ground-breaking discovery about the magnetic waves roiling the Sun’s surface.
A team of scientists from the Queen’s University Belfast in Northern Ireland has solved one of the greatest mysteries of the Sun: the existence of magnetic waves that heat up its surface.
While the Sun is the primary source of energy for all living organisms here on our planet, it holds many mysteries that researchers are still struggling to solve. In fact, one of these enigmas baffled scientists for over 50 years.
In a paper published in the journal Nature Physics, the Queen’s University Belfast researchers reported that they have finally observed evidence that the magnetic waves known as Alfvén waves have been roiling the surface of the Sun.
In a press statement, Dr. David Jess from the School of Mathematics and Physics at Queen’s said:
“At Queen’s, we have now led a team to detect and pinpoint the heat produced by Alfvén waves in a sunspot. This theory was predicted some 75 years ago, but we now have the proof for the very first time.
Our research opens up a new window to understanding how this phenomenon could potentially work in other areas such as energy reactors and medical devices.”
Solving the Mystery of the Sun’s Magnetic Waves
Back in 1942, Hannes Alfvén, a Swedish physicist and engineer, reportedly predicted the existence of a new kind of magnetic wave that acts on plasma. This prediction paved the way for Alfvén to obtain the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1970.
Since then, the waves, which came to be known as Alfvén waves, have been greatly associated with different sources such as nuclear reactors, the gas clouds that envelop comets, medical MRI imaging, many laboratory experiments, and even our very own Sun.
Scientists have theorized that these magnetic waves have a significant role in keeping the Sun’s extremely high temperatures. However, any substantial proof to support this claim has eluded researchers for many years.
“For a long time, scientists across the globe have predicted that Alfvén waves travel upwards from the solar surface to break in the higher layers, releasing enormous amounts of energy in the form of heat. Over the last decade scientists have been able to prove that the waves exist but until now there was no direct evidence that they had the capability to convert their movement into heat,” Dr. Jess went on to say.
Dr. Jess and his colleagues from Queen’s have led a team of international researchers from the Space Research Institute, Austria; Ilia State University, Georgia; the National Solar Observatory, USA; Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias, Spain; Lockheed Martin, USA and California State University Northridge, USA to uncover the truth behind the Sun’s magnetic waves.
For their study, the researchers used state-of-the-art high-resolution observations using the Dunn Solar Telescope located in New Mexico together with the observations taken by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory. The findings from these powerful telescopes were gathered to analyze the strongest magnetic fields found in the Sun’s spots.
Apparently, these spots contain intense fields almost similar to the ones found in modern MRI machines used in hospitals and laboratories, but on a massive scale.
“By breaking the Sun’s light up into its constituent colors, our international team of researchers were able to examine the behavior of certain elements from the periodic table within the Sun’s atmosphere, including calcium and iron,” Dr. Samuel Grant, another researcher from Queen’s, explained.
According to Dr. Grant, after extracting all the elements, intense flashes of light were detected in the image sequences.
These intense flashes are said to be hallmarks of the Alfvén waves as they convert their energy into shock waves. An event likened to a “supersonic aircraft creating a boom as it exceeds the speed of sound.”
“The shock waves then ripple through the surrounding plasma, producing extreme heat. Using supercomputers, we were able to analyze the data and show for the first time in history that the Alfvén waves were capable of increasing plasma temperatures violently above their calm background,” Dr. Grant further stated.
The researchers believe that a better understanding of these magnetic waves could potentially solve another mystery involving the Sun’s solar winds.
The scientists suggest that the same magnetic waves could be the driving force behind this constant stream of plasma that is flowing out of the sun into space. If proven, this could help future explorers to thrive in space.