Tiny jets have been discovered on the Sun that may reveal one of the secrets of our star. Photo

Dmytro IvancheskulLife
Solar Orbiter detects tiny jets that could be a source of solar wind. Source: Andrew McCarthy&Jason Guenzel/ESA & NASA/colage OBOZREVATEL

The Solar Orbiter spacecraft has detected many tiny jets of material escaping from the Sun's outer atmosphere. Each such jet lasts from 20 to 100 seconds and ejects plasma at a speed of about 100 km/s. Scientists suggest that these jets may be the mysterious source of the solar wind.

This is stated in a study published in the journal Science. The details are also available on the website of the European Space Agency (ESA), which, together with NASA, launched a spacecraft to study the Sun.

The solar wind is made up of charged particles known as plasma that continuously fly out of the Sun. It spreads through space, colliding with everything in its path, including the Earth's magnetic field, to form the aurorae.

Although the solar wind is no secret to scientists, little was previously understood about how it is formed. Now Solar Orbiter has brought scientists closer to solving this mystery.

Thus, in images taken on 30 March 2022, "faint, short-lived objects associated with small plasma jets" were detected ejected from the Sun's atmosphere.

"We were able to detect these tiny jets only thanks to the unprecedentedly high resolution and high frequency of the images," explained lead author Lakshmi Pradeep Chitta of the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Germany.

Particularly important is the fact that the analysis of the images showed that these features are caused by the ejection of plasma from the solar atmosphere.

Researchers have known for a long time that a significant part of the solar wind is associated with coronal holes - regions where the magnetic field does not return to the Sun but stretches deep into the solar system. It is through such regions that plasma "leaks out", heading for outer space. But no one knew what was pushing the plasma out.

It was believed that the reason for the "leak" could be that the corona is hot and naturally expands, flowing out along the force lines. But new studies of the coronal hole located at the south pole of the Sun and the detection of individual jets cast doubt on the theory that the solar wind is formed only as a constant, uninterrupted stream.

"To a large extent, this flow is not really uniform, the ubiquity of the jets suggests that the solar wind from coronal holes can occur as a very intermittent flow," explained study co-author Andrey Zhukov from the Royal Observatory of Belgium.

Tiny jets on the Sun that eject plasma.

According to scientists, the energy of these detected jets is low. The most powerful coronal phenomena are class X solar flares, and the weakest are the so-called nanoflashes, which are billions of times weaker. However, the tiny jets detected by Solar Orbiter are even less energetic and emit about a thousand times less energy than nanoflares. At the same time, most of this energy is used to emit plasma.

Scientists note that the ubiquity of these flares indicates that they push out a significant portion of the material in the solar wind.

So far, Solar Orbiter is orbiting the Sun's equator, so scientists see the jets at a right angle, which prevents them from making certain measurements, but in a few years the spacecraft will allow them to study these jets from a different, better perspective.

This is because as the mission continues, the spacecraft will gradually tilt its orbit towards the polar regions. At the same time, activity on the Sun will develop as part of the solar cycle, and coronal holes will begin to appear at different latitudes, opening up a unique new perspective.

Earlier, OBOZREVATEL reported that the Sun may reach a dangerous peak earlier than scientists thought, and humanity is not ready for it.

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