Look at that picture, now back at the article, now back at the picture, now back to the article. Here, you are literally looking at waves rolling across the Sun’s atmosphere. More correctly known as the corona, this is one atmosphere you probably wouldn’t want to spend too much time in. Scientists have been trying to study the corona for decades, which isn’t easy considering how much brighter the Sun is that it’s atmosphere. Recently, we’ve discovered the corona was bigger than we originally thought. A lot bigger.
The Sun has a diameter of about 1.392 million kilometers (865,000 miles). Observations made by the Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory (STEREO) has revealed the Sun’s corona stretches at least 8 million km (5 million miles) from the Sun’s surface. Basically, the Sun’s corona is about 6 times wider than the Sun.
In a NASA press release, Craig DeForest said, “We’ve tracked sound-like waves through the outer corona and used these to map the atmosphere. We can’t hear the sounds directly through the vacuum of space, but with careful analysis we can see them rippling through the corona.” More specifically, these waves are known as Alfven waves,
or magnetosonic waves. As the name suggests, it’s basically the love child of sound waves and magnetic waves. On the Sun, these waves will occur every few hours. These waves are created by various solar phenomena, such as solar storms.
In addition to furthering our understanding of our Solar System’s power source, this information will help scientists plan for the Solar Probe Plus mission. Currently, it’s scheduled to launch in 2018, and it will travel to within 6.4 million km (4 million mi) to the sun. That’s much closer than any man-made object to date. In light of this new data, the probe will also be the first human spacecraft to enter the Sun’s corona.
For related reading, learn about the Sun’s solar cycles, or discovery why its magnetic field flips on a regular basis. Plus, did you know that there are magnetic portals that connect the Sun’s magnetic field to Earth’s?