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The source of the solar wind (Forwarded)

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Old May 6th 08, 04:59 AM posted to sci.space.news
Andrew Yee[_1_]
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Default The source of the solar wind (Forwarded)


Issued by RAS Press Officers:

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Tel: +44 (0)20 7734 3307 / 4582

Anita Heward
Tel: +44 (0)1483 420904

Tel: +44 (0)2890 975262 / 975263 / 975264

NAM 2008

Royal Astronomical Society


Professor Louise Harra
Department of Space and Climate Physics
Mullard Space Science Laboratory
Holmbury St. Mary
Surrey RH5 6NT
Tel: +44 (0)20 7679 3157

Jenny Gimpel
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EMBARGOED UNTIL 0001 BST, 2 April 2008

Ref.: PN 08/27 (NAM 18)

The source of the solar wind

An international team of scientists have found the source of the stream of
particles that make up the solar wind. In a presentation on Wednesday 2
April at the RAS National Astronomy Meeting (NAM 2008) in Belfast, Professor
Louise Harra of the UCL-Mullard Space Science Laboratory will explain how
astronomers have used a UK-led instrument on the orbiting Hinode space
observatory to finally track down the starting point for the wind.

The solar wind consists of electrically charged particles that flow out from
the Sun in all directions. Even at their slowest, the particles race along
at 200 km per second, taking less than 10 days to travel from the Sun to the
Earth. When stronger gusts of the wind run into the magnetic field of the
Earth there can be dramatic consequences, from creating beautiful displays
of the northern and southern lights (aurorae) to interfering with electronic
systems on satellites and sometimes even overloading electrical power grids
on the ground.

From its launch in the autumn of 2006, scientists have used the Hinode
mission to study the Sun in unprecedented detail. One of the instruments on
the probe, the UK-built Extreme Ultraviolet Imaging Spectrometer (EIS)
measures the speed at which material flows out from the Sun.

The Sun is a cauldron of hot gas shaped by magnetic fields, which create
bright regions of activity on the solar surface. Using EIS, the scientists
found that at the edges of these bright regions hot gas spurts out at high
speeds. Magnetic fields connect the regions together, even when they are
widely separated. For example, in the Hinode images that Prof Harra will
present on Wednesday, magnetic fields linked two regions almost 500000 km
apart -- a distance equivalent to 40 Earths placed side by side in space.
When magnetic fields from two regions collide they allow hot gas to escape
from the Sun -- this material flows out as the solar wind.

Professor Louise Harra of UCL-Mullard Space Science Laboratory says, "It is
fantastic to finally be able to pinpoint the source of the solar wind -- it
has been debated for many years and now we have the final piece of the
jigsaw. In the future we want to be able to work out how the wind is
transported through the solar system."


Images and movies from the mission


Figure 1
An X-ray image of the Sun made with the Hinode satellite on 20 February
2007. The insets show the flow of gas away from the bright region marked on
the left. The blue image indicates material flowing towards us that will
eventually make up the solar wind and the red image shows material flowing
away from us back towards the surface of the Sun. Image: L. Harra / JAXA /

Movie 1
An animation assembled from X-ray images made with Hinode over a 12-hour
period on 20 February 2007. The material seen flowing away from the bright
region on the right-hand side will eventually leave the Sun as the solar
wind. Movie: T. Sakao / JAXA / NASA / ESA


* Mullard Space Science Laboratory


The Hinode (the Japanese word for sunrise) mission was launched in October
2006. It is used to study magnetic fields on the Sun and their role in
powering the solar atmosphere and driving solar eruptions. Hinode was
developed and launched by the Japanese Space Agency ISAS/JAXA, with the
National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (NAOJ) as the domestic partner
and NASA and the UK Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) as
international partners. It is operated by these agencies in co-operation
with the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Norwegian Space Centre (NSC).

The RAS National Astronomy Meeting (NAM 2008) is hosted by Queen's
University Belfast. It is principally sponsored by the RAS and the Science
and Technology Facilities Council (STFC). NAM 2008 is being held together
with the UK Solar Physics (UKSP) and Magnetosphere, Ionosphere and
Solar-Terrestrial (MIST) spring meetings.

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