"The Sun with some sunspots visible" by NASA / Public Domain

Sun-bombing spacecraft uncovers secrets of the solar wind

Dec 5, 2019

By Alexandra Witze

A spacecraft buzzing past the Sun has caught the best-ever glimpse of the birthplace of the solar wind — the stream of energized particles that floods outwards from the star.

NASA’s Parker Solar Probe spotted strange spikes in the wind, where particles speed up and flip the direction of the wind’s magnetic field. The spacecraft also observed the wind rotating around the Sun faster than expected — suggesting that scientists’ understanding of how stars’ rotation slows down as they age could be wrong.

The findings, described in four papers published on 4 December in Nature14, could help researchers to better prepare for periods when the solar wind is particularly turbulent and knocks out radio and other communications as it washes over Earth. They are the first discoveries from the Parker Solar Probe, which launched in 2018 and has made three circuits around the Sun so far.

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