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Sun’s magnetic field may originate close to surface, experts say

Solar flares, flashes on the left (May 8) and the right (May 7)
Solar flares, flashes on the left (May 8) and the right (May 7) Copyright NASA/SDO
Copyright NASA/SDO
By Roselyne Min with AP
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Researchers say the new finding could help predict periods of extreme solar storms.

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A new study suggests the sun's magnetic field may originate much closer to the surface than previously thought.

An international team of mathematicians and scientists discovered the magnetic field appears to generate about 32,200 km beneath the sun's surface.

They made the finding by running calculations on a NASA supercomputer and published their study in the journal Nature.

Previous theories had suggested this happened more than 209,000 km below the surface.

"The main results of our paper are that we've put forward a new hypothesis that the magnetic field of the Sun is generated near its surface, whereas previous models had assumed that it was generated deep within the sun," said Daniel Lecoanet, a co-author of the study from Northwestern University.

The research team says the new finding could improve long-term solar forecasts, allowing scientists to better predict the strength, or weakness, of our star's future cycles.

"Solar storms are caused by the magnetic field of the sun. What happens is that there are parts of the solar magnetic field, which most of it is within the Sun, but parts of it peek out onto its surface,” said Lecoanet.

“You can think of the magnetic field as kind of being like a rubber band. And the motions near the top of the sun are pulling in that rubber band until it gets so extended that it breaks. And when it breaks, that then launches the material from the sun out into space,” Lecoanet added.

Sun could disrupt power

Recently, solar storms hit Earth, leaving people in awe as beautiful auroras were seen in unusual places.

The sun is approaching its peak level of activity in the current 11-year cycle, which explains the recent flare-ups.

When strong solar flares and coronal mass ejections hit the planet, they can disrupt electrical and telecommunications infrastructure, experts say.

In the 1800s, an extremely strong solar storm known as the Carrington Event hit Canada.

If a similar event were to hit the US today, it is estimated that it would cause between $1 and $2 trillion in damages, according to Lecoanet.

The sun recently spewed out the biggest solar flare in almost 20 years, but luckily, that one steered clear of Earth.

“Although many aspects of solar dynamics remain shrouded in mystery, our work makes huge strides in cracking one of the oldest unsolved problems in theoretical physics and opens the way to better predictions of dangerous solar activity,” Lecoanet said in a statement.

For more on this story, watch the video in the media player above.

Video editor • Roselyne Min

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