Belfast scientists help solve 60 year old mystery about the sun

  • An international team of scientists led by Queen's University Belfast has made a ground-breaking discovery on the Sun's magnetic field that solves a 60 year old scientific mystery.

    One of the most startling facts about the sun is that the while the surface of the sun is just a few thousand degrees, its outer layer named the corona can reach millions of degrees. Fusion experiments on earth have generated temperatures of millions of degrees, but the question of how the sun's corona sustains these temperatures has been a mystery. The answer to questions like this could potentially lead to fusion technology improvements on earth.

    It was known that magnetic waves from the sun actually get stronger as they exit the surface, but we've never been able to observe the mechanism that caused it. An international team of scientists led by researchers from Queen's University Belfast has now used observations from the National Science Foundation’s Dunn Solar Telescope in New Mexico to study the phenomenon.

    The team analysed light from the sun to track the presence of elements such as silicon, calcium, and helium across the star as a way to observe the speed of the sun's plasma. This allowed them to break down the characteristic wave frequencies of the Sun and directly observe the magnetic field amplification effect for the first time. Supercomputer simulations using the data collected then provided clues to how the wave amplification happens and how waves get trapped in the corona.

    Project leader Dr David Jess from the School of Mathematics and Physics at Queen’s University explained the findings: "The effect that we have found through the research is similar to how an acoustic guitar changes the sound it emits through the shape of its hollow body. If we think of this analogy we can see how the waves captured in the Sun can grow and change as they exit its surface and move towards the outer layers and exterior."

    Source: Queen's University Belfast

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    Brendan is a Sync NI writer with a special interest in the gaming sector, programming, emerging technology, and physics. To connect with Brendan, feel free to send him an email or follow him on Twitter.

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