Mystery of ‘slow’ solar wind unveiled by Solar Orbiter mission | Science & Technology

Scientists have come a step closer to identifying the mysterious origins of the ‘slow’ solar wind, using data collected during the Solar Orbiter spacecraft’s first close journey to the Sun.

Solar wind, which can travel at hundreds of kilometres per second, has fascinated scientists for years, and new research published in Nature Astronomy, is finally shedding light on how it forms.

Solar wind describes the continuous outflow of charged plasma particles from the Sun into space — with wind travelling at over 500km per second known as ‘fast’ and under 500km per second described as ‘slow’.

When this wind hits the Earth’s atmosphere it can result in the stunning aurora we know as the Northern Lights. But when larger quantities of plasma are released, in the form of a coronal mass ejection, it can also be hazardous, causing significant damage to satellites and communications systems.

Despite decades of observations, the sources and mechanisms that release, accelerate and transport solar wind plasma away from the Sun and into our solar system are not well understood — particularly the slow solar wind.

In 2020 the European Space Agency (ESA), with support from NASA, launched the Solar Orbiter mission. As well as capturing the closest and most detailed images of the Sun ever taken, one of the mission’s main aims is to measure and link the solar wind back to its area of origin on the Sun’s surface.

Described as ‘the most complex scientific laboratory ever to have been sent to the Sun’, there are ten different scientific instruments onboard Solar Orbiter — some in situ to collect and analyse samples of the solar wind as it passes the spacecraft, and other remote sensing instruments designed to capture high quality images of activity at the Sun’s surface.

By combining photographic and instrumental data, scientists have for the first time been able to identify more clearly where the slow solar wind originates. This has helped them to establish how it is able to leave…

Source www.sciencedaily.com

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