Surf’s up on the Sun! Our favorite gnarly spacecraft, the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) has caught conclusive evidence of classic “surfer waves” in the Sun’s atmosphere. But these waves trump ‘Hawaii Five-O’ surfing big time, as they are about the same size as the continental U.S.
Spotting these waves will help our understanding of how energy moves through the solar atmosphere, known as the corona and maybe even help solar physicists be able to predict events like Coronal Mass Ejections.
Just like a surfing wave on Earth, the solar counterpart is formed by the same fluid mechanics — in this case it is a phenomenon known as a Kelvin-Helmholtz instability. Since scientists know how these kinds of waves disperse energy in water, they can use this information to better understand the corona. This in turn, may help solve an enduring mystery of why the corona is thousands of times hotter than originally expected.
“One of the biggest questions about the solar corona is the heating mechanism,” says solar physicist Leon Ofman of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md. and Catholic University, Washington. “The corona is a thousand times hotter than the sun’s visible surface, but what heats it up is not well-understood. People have suggested that waves like this might cause turbulence which cause heating, but now we have direct evidence of Kelvin-Helmholtz waves.”
The Astronomical Research Center (A.R.C) mentioned that Even though these waves occur frequently in nature here on Earth, no one had seen them on the Sun. But that was before SDO.
Ofman and colleagues spotted these waves in images taken on April 8, 2010 in some of the first images caught on camera by SDO, which launched in Feburary last year and began capturing data on March 24, 2010. Ofman & team have just published a paper in Astrophysical Journal Letters.