A Video Show Solar Snake Slither Across the Sun’s Surface – At 380,000 Miles per Hour: Solar Orbiter has found a “tube” of cooler gases in the atmosphere quickly moving through the Sun’s strong magnetic field. This observation adds a fascinating new piece to the zoo of features that the European Space Agency-led Solar Orbiter mission has already found (ESA). It’s even more interesting because the snake was a sign of something much bigger to come.
On September 5, 2022, the snake was seen as the Solar Orbiter spacecraft got close to the Sun for a close pass on October 12. The “snake” is a tube of cool plasma held in the hotter plasma of the Sun’s atmosphere by magnetic fields.
Solar Snake Slither Across The Sun’s Surface
Plasma is a form of matter that is similar to solids, liquids, and gas. Plasmas are so hot that the electrons jump out of the atoms, making them a gas of charged particles. Since they are charged, they can be affected by magnetic fields. All of the gas in the Sun’s atmosphere is plasma because the temperature there is more than a million degrees Celsius.
The plasma in the snake is following a very long part of the Sun’s magnetic field that goes from one side to the other.
“Plasma flows from one side to the other, but the magnetic field is really twisted. So this change in direction is because we’re looking down on a twisted structure, says David Long of the Mullard Space Science Laboratory (UCL) in the UK, who is leading the investigation into the phenomenon.
Images from the Extreme-Ultraviolet Imager (EUI) on Solar Orbiter were used to make the time-lapse movie at the top of this page. In fact, it took the snake about three hours to finish its trip. But given the distances involved in crossing the surface of the sun, that means the plasma must have been moving at about 170 km/s (106 miles/s) or 612,000 km/h (380,000 miles per hour).
The snake is so interesting because it started in a sunspot that later erupted, sending billions of tonnes of plasma into space. This makes it more likely that the snake was a kind of sign that this event would happen, and Solar Orbiter’s many instruments caught it all. The eruption was one of the most intense solar energetic particle events that the spacecraft’s Energetic Particle Detector (EPD) had seen so far.
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David says, “It’s a really nice mix of datasets that we can only get from Solar Orbiter.” Even more interesting is that the plasma from this eruption, called a coronal mass ejection, happened to sweep over NASA‘s Parker Solar Probe, allowing its instruments to measure what was in the eruption.
One of Solar Orbiter’s main scientific goals is to be able to watch an eruption and then take samples of the gas it sends into space, either with its own instruments or those of another spacecraft. It will help us learn more about how the sun works and how it affects “space weather,” which can mess with satellites and other technology on Earth.
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