Planet-sized ‘waves’ spotted in the Sun’s atmosphere

Mar 29, 2017

By Sid Perkins

Huge ripples in Earth’s atmosphere called Rossby waves help to steer the planet’s jet streams and weather patterns. Now, a study in Nature Astronomy offers the best evidence yet  that similar large-scale features also exist on the Sun1.

Rossby waves were  discovered in Earth’s atmosphere in the late 1930s. Driven by a planet’s rotation, they’ve been seen in the atmospheres of other planets, as well as in Earth’s oceans. In theory, these waves can form in any rotating fluid, says Scott McIntosh, a solar physicist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado and lead study author.

Researchers have long sought evidence of Rossby waves on the Sun, he says. And an enhanced understanding of these features and their movements could help scientists to better predict the formation of sunspots and the eruption of solar flares.

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