This vivid twist represents a solar cyclone, made of plasma, or ionized gas, moving along swirling magnetic fields on the Sun. It is a computer simulation of the storms on the Sun, created using data from a space telescope at NASA’s orbiting Solar Dynamics Observatory and the Swedish 1-meter Solar Telescope on Earth.
These solar cyclones may help to answer a question that scientists had long wondered about: why is the sun’s atmosphere more than 300 times hotter than its surface? Scientists previously thought that the heat came from the surface of the sun, but how it traveled to the surface was unclear. Now, researchers think that these solar storms, as many as 11,000 at once, funnel heat from the sun’s surface to the corona, as they reported in Nature.
Image via Wedemeyer-Böhm et al/Nature Publishing Group
The Sun’s atmosphere, or corona, is spectacularly hot—far, far hotter than the Sun’s surface. Why this is is still something of a mystery, and scientists watching the Sun’s surface have built software that looks at the heating and cooling occurring in the corona in an attempt to understand how fast temperature changes happen.
Above is an ultraviolet image of a small patch of the sun’s corona. The right half has been processed with a computer program so sections that are growing cooler over a 12-hour period are colored yellow, orange, and red, while heating sections are labeled blue and green.