NASA and ESA get closer to explaining Sun’s mysterious heat.

NASA and ESA get closer to explaining Sun's mysterious heat.

Unraveling the Enigma of the Sun’s Heat: A Giant Leap Forward

Solar Orbiter According to the ESA, the Solar Orbiter is the most complex scientific lab ever sent to the sun. Credit: ESA.

Have you ever wondered why the Sun’s atmosphere, known as the corona, is actually hotter than its surface? After all, the heat should logically decrease the further away you get from the Sun’s core, where the nuclear furnace resides. Well, scientists have been pondering over this enigma for years, and recently two spacecraft have taken a giant leap forward in unraveling the mystery.

A collaboration between NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) led to an exploration of this enduring puzzle. The Sun’s surface is already scorching at around 6,000 degrees Celcius, but the corona takes it to a whole new level, reaching a staggering 1 million degrees – over 150 times hotter! To make sense of this temperature disparity, scientists began to suspect the role of plasma, an electrically charged gas that comprises the corona.

The key challenge was proving how turbulence in the solar atmosphere heats the plasma. To provide further evidence, two spacecraft were needed. One spacecraft would conduct remote sensing from a certain distance, using cameras to observe the Sun and its atmosphere at various wavelengths. The other spacecraft would fly through the region, taking measurements of particles and magnetic fields in the area.

Solar Orbiter Observation The Sun’s corona, as observed by the European Space Agency’s Solar Orbiter. Credit: ESA

The ideal candidates for this mission were found in the Solar Orbiter, led by ESA, which would primarily focus on remote sensing operations, and NASA’s Parker Solar Probe, which was tasked with getting even closer to the Sun for in-situ measurements. Together, these two spacecraft achieved an interstellar milestone: simultaneous measurements of the large-scale configuration of the solar corona and the microphysical properties of the plasma.

The researchers published their groundbreaking findings in a study paper in Nature Communications. After comparing the observations, they became convinced that turbulence plays a crucial role in transferring energy. They likened it to stirring a cup of coffee, where the fluid movement transfers energy to increasingly smaller scales, ultimately converting it into heat. Additionally, due to the magnetic nature of the fluid in the solar corona, magnetic energy can also be converted into heat.

ESA’s project scientist for the Solar Orbiter, Daniel Müller, expressed his excitement over these findings, calling them a “scientific first” and a “significant step forward in solving the coronal heating problem.” While further work is still needed to unravel the intricacies of solar heating, this marks the first measurement of the process, offering valuable insights into the Sun’s mysterious heat.

In conclusion, thanks to the collaboration between NASA and the ESA, we now have a better understanding of how turbulence in the solar atmosphere affects the plasma in the Sun’s corona. This groundbreaking discovery brings us closer to solving the long-standing mystery of the Sun’s enigmatic heat. The future holds even more exciting research opportunities, as scientists continue to explore the depths of our solar system and beyond.