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Massive Magnetic Waves Over Earth's Surface Could Exist In Sun's Atmosphere Too

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Researchers have found that waves similar to the giant magnetic ones, which sweep the Earth's atmosphere exist in the Sun's surface too.

Dubbed Rossby waves, they are usually found high over the Earth's surface. These waves play a pivotal role in determining wind and weather patterns. However, this is the first time the massive magnetic waves have been noticed on the Sun.

The discovery of these planet-sized waves on the Sun could potentially explain why it is difficult for scientists to predict solar storms.

"The discovery of magnetized Rossby waves on the Sun offers the tantalizing possibility that we can predict space weather much further in advance," said Scott McIntosh, from the U.S. National Centre of Atmospheric Research.

Rossby Waves: What Are They?

The Rossby or planetary waves are found above the Earth's surface and in its oceans too. The waves cause changes in the paths of jet stream winds and also result in the formation of high- and low-pressure belts. These in turn affect the weather on the ground.

Such waves have also been spotted moving across the oceans. One such wave has been observed traversing westwards, around our planet. It is said to be responsible for a humming noise, which is emanating from the Caribbean Sea.

Rossby waves are essentially ripples in the Earth's atmosphere and were first discovered in the planet's atmosphere in the late 1930s.

In the past, it was thought that Rossby-type waves could form on the Sun since it is primarily made up of plasma, which behaves like a huge magnetized ocean. This, however, is the first time scientists have been able to detect the same.

Previous attempts to locate the Rossby waves on the Sun met with failure. This was because researchers only had a single vantage point to observe the host star — namely Earth.

How Were The Waves Discovered On The Sun?

From 2011 to 2014, scientists were able to observe the entire atmosphere of the Sun at once. This was possible due to the Solar Dynamics Observatory and the Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory missions undertaken by NASA. The latter comprised two individual spacecrafts, which were sent to orbit the Sun.

The data collected from this mission enabled scientists to get a 360-degree view of the host star, which helped them determine whether any Rossby-type patterns emerged on the Sun. The scientists found that bands of magnetic waves swept across the Sun's surface, similar to the Rossby waves on Earth.

These waves had an average speed of 3.25 meters in the northern hemisphere of the Sun, and seemed to move westwards. The speed of the waves was less and stood roughly at 2.65 meters in the Sun's southern hemisphere.

If weather conditions on the Sun are linked to the Rossby waves, this could provide a great breakthrough for scientists. The connection would enable them to predict the weather on the Sun, preparing humans for any possible calamity.

However, scientists may find it difficult to get another 360-degree view of the Sun's atmosphere. Without proper study, solar weather prediction could be a distant dream.

The study has been published in Nature Astronomy.

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