Solar winds, the streams of charged particles from the sun, have baffled scientists for years. However, recent images captured by the Extreme Ultraviolet Imager (EUI) instrument aboard the European Space Agency’s (ESA) and NASA’s Solar Orbiter may have finally shed some light on their origin.
The images revealed the presence of numerous “picoflare jets” emerging from a dark region of the sun known as a “coronal hole.” While these picoflare jets are smaller and weaker than traditional solar flares, they still contain significant amounts of energy. Measuring just a few hundred kilometers in length, these jets reach impressive speeds of around 100 kilometers per second and can last between 20 and 100 seconds.
Researchers believe that these picoflare jets are a significant source of our solar system’s solar winds. For a long time, scientists have known that coronal holes serve as source regions for solar winds, but the mechanism behind their formation has remained elusive. This new discovery, however, may have finally provided an explanation for how plasma streams emerge from coronal holes.
Lead author of the study, Lakshmi Pradeep Chitta, compared the energy content of a single picoflare jet to the average power consumed by approximately 10,000 households in the UK over a year. This highlights the substantial energy stored within these seemingly small and fleeting phenomena. Chitta’s team plans to continue monitoring coronal holes and other potential sources of solar winds using the Solar Orbiter, in hopes of further unraveling this cosmic mystery.
In addition to solving the riddle of solar winds, these ongoing observations could also contribute to understanding why the sun’s corona, its outer atmosphere, is hotter than its surface. This phenomenon, known as the “coronal heating problem,” has puzzled scientists for decades.
The groundbreaking research, published in the journal Science, marks a significant milestone in our quest to uncover the mysteries of the sun and the fundamental workings of our solar system. With the help of advanced imaging technology and continuous monitoring, we are steadily unraveling the secrets of the universe and gaining a deeper understanding of our place within it.