The U.S. May Ban Kratom. But Are its Effects Deadly or Lifesaving?

By Troy Farah | November 15, 2018 3:00 pm
kratom ground leaves for capsules

Kratom is a drug popular in Southeast Asia that’s derived from the leaves of Mitragyna speciosa, a tree in the coffee family. Kratom’s pain relieving properties allowed it to surge in popularity in the United States in the wake of the opioid crisis. (Rattiya Thongdumhyu/shutterstock)

Across America, thousands of people are throwing away their prescription drugs and picking up kratom, a plant-based drug from Southeast Asia usually brewed as a tea. Within the leaves of this tropical tree are opioid-like compounds that users say provide pain and anxiety relief, and the ability to wean off street drugs like heroin. But some health organizations warn kratom can be addictive itself or even deadly.

An estimated five million people use kratom regularly, according to the American Kratom Association (AKA), a pro-kratom lobbyist group. And the rising popularity of this herb has caught the eyes of federal government regulators, who have made several unsuccessful attempts to ban it. But that may soon change.
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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, Top Posts

Massive Impact Crater Beneath Greenland Could Explain Ice Age Climate Swing

By Anna Groves | November 14, 2018 1:02 pm
A heatmap shows in green a circular crater depression in a red-and-yellow colored surrounding.

Topography under Hiawatha glacier in Greenland, mapped with airborne radar data (1997 to 2014, NASA; 2016 Alfred Wegener Institute). Black triangles and purple circles are elevated peaks around the rim and center. Dotted red lines and black circles show locations of additional sampling. (Credit: Kjæer et al. / Science Advances)

Most of Earth’s surface has been plotted, mapped and measured. And along the way, scientists have turned up a plethora of craters big and small. But there was always one major crater missing.

12,800 years ago, during the Pleistocene, Earth was warming up from its last Ice Age. Temperatures slowly rose while glaciers retreated, that is, until something major happened that triggered a cold snap big enough to leave its mark on the geologic record. Over the course of just decades – the blink of an eye in geological timescales – the planet cooled somewhere between 3 and 11 degrees Fahrenheit (2 to 6 degrees Celsius). The resulting period is known as the Younger Dryas, a mysterious 1000-year blip in history.

Many scientists have suggested – with evidence – that the Younger Dryas was triggered by a meteorite impact. But others have held out, suggesting that volcanic eruptions or, what seems to be the leading favorite, some sort of massive freshwater flood temporarily disrupted climate cycles based out of the North Atlantic. But the main reason scientists have been slow to accept the impact hypothesis is simple: There’s just no crater.

But research out today in the open-access journal Science Advances suggests that maybe we haven’t looked everywhere.
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Are the Laws of the Universe Fine-Tuned for Life?

By Korey Haynes | November 12, 2018 1:00 pm
a crescent view of Earth

Our planet teems with life. But are we a fluke, or an inevitability? Credit: ESA

Humans have often looked at the night sky and wondered if there’s anyone else out there. But stare into that darkness long enough, and many wonder instead: how did we get here? What were the odds, in a universe so enormous and chaotic, that humans should have come to exist at all? Is life, let alone intelligent life, such a wildly improbable occurrence that we’re the only ones here? Or are we an inevitable consequence of the laws of physics?

Life exists on Earth (assuming we’re not living in a computer simulation). Therefore, the universe must exist in such a way that we are possible. That’s the essence of the anthropic principle. On the one hand, it sounds tautological. By that, I mean, I’m just saying the same thing twice. But cast another way, it can lead us to important truths about the universe. It means any version of the universe we can fathom has to allow for life to exist at least once. When there are things we don’t understand about the universe — how dark energy works, how the cosmos formed — all our theories have to include the fact that we exist. The universe must allow us.

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MORE ABOUT: cosmology

In the Face of Climate Change, These Sea Lions Are Getting Smart

By Stephanie Stone | November 12, 2018 12:00 pm
Using a small lava cove as trap, a small number of bulls have learned to round up pelagic yellowfin tuna, driving them into shallow nooks, where the exhausted fish often leap ashore in a last ditch attempt to escape. The oldest bull eats his fill after dispatching the prey with bites to nape and throat, while younger bulls take the scraps.

Using a small lava cove as trap, a small number of bulls have learned to round up pelagic yellowfin tuna, driving them into shallow nooks, where the exhausted fish often leap ashore in a last ditch attempt to escape. The oldest bull eats his fill after dispatching the prey with bites to nape and throat, while younger bulls take the scraps. (Credit: Tui de Roy)

The water churns in a chaotic flurry of fins and flippers. Hungry onlookers hover, swoop, and scurry, hoping to get in on at least the final stages of the action. There are deep growls, sprays of blood, and flashes of iridescent blue and yellow scales against black volcanic rock. It’s a scene so wild and unprecedented that when local fishermen first started reporting it a few years ago, their accounts might have been dismissed as unbelievable. But this is the Galápagos, a place where remarkable wildlife sightings are so commonplace that practically anything seems possible. Here, in two different fishhook-shaped coves on the islands of Isabela and Fernandina, Galápagos sea lions (Zalophus wollebaeki) were rumored to be successfully hunting yellowfin tuna (Thunnes albacares)—fish that can easily swim twice as fast as the sea lions, even when the marine mammals are lunging at top speed. When acclaimed wildlife photographer and naturalist Tui De Roy heard from a game warden that the rumors appeared to be true, she immediately started planning her next visit to the islands.

Having grown up in the Galápagos, where she’d spent countless hours watching the islands’ sea lions play beach ball with puffer fish, sink dinghies for fun, and taunt Sally Lightfoot crabs with their whiskers, De Roy knew better than most how intelligent and social these animals are. But even she was floored when she first saw a group of sea lions herd a handful of 50-pound tuna out of the water and onto the forbidding shore. “Even though I’d been told what they were doing,” says De Roy, “when I actually saw it I thought, ‘I can’t believe this is happening. I just can’t believe it.’”

While the sea lions’ ability to execute such a feat may have surprised De Roy, their drive to do so certainly didn’t. Over the past 30 years, the population of Galápagos sea lions has declined precipitously, from at least 40,000 individuals to fewer than 15,000. The charismatic mammals have faced a number of threats in recent decades, but by all accounts the most significant has been food scarcity. Pacific sardines (Sardinops sagax), small-bodied baitfish that need relatively cool water in order to spawn, were once the preferred meal for Galápagos sea lions because of their abundance and high fat content. But as the waters around the volcanic islands have warmed, and the frequency and severity of El Niño events have increased, sardines have become harder and harder to find. Without this rich food source, the sea lions are struggling to survive—especially during El Niño years, when up to 100 percent of the pups, 50 percent of the yearlings, and a substantial number of adults may die. It’s little wonder that some Galápagos sea lions have gotten creative in their quest for food.

Tuna, which are among the fastest fish in the sea, are much harder to catch than sardines. But because of both their heft and their similarly high-fat flesh, they are also a much more valuable prize. “I’ve seen big bull sea lions eat two thirds of a 50-pound tuna in one sitting,” says De Roy. And when the herding goes well, they might repeat that meal three or four times a day. (Perhaps that’s why the older bulls that frequent these two coves are among the biggest De Roy has seen in the Galápagos in recent years.) However, success is far from guaranteed. For these sea lions, pulling off such a high-stakes hunt requires three things: patience, teamwork, and exactly the right volcanic formations.

(Credit: Tui De Roy)

(Credit: Tui De Roy)

The jagged, black shores that ring the Galápagos Islands are nearly as iconic as the marine iguanas, penguins, and other archipelago ambassadors that reside there. Formed by lava that has repeatedly flowed into the sea and hardened into gnarled fingers, the coastline can be practically maze-like—a feature the tuna herders have learned to use to their advantage.

(Credit: Tui De Roy)

(Credit: Tui De Roy)

To start a hunt, a group of three to six sea lions gather outside the entrance of a narrow cove and patrol the water slowly, waiting for a school of tuna to pass by.

(Credit: Tui De Roy)

(Credit: Tui De Roy)

At the first sight of tuna, the sea lions begin zigzagging and porpoising on the seaward side of the school, gradually driving the fish toward the other end of the cove.

(Credit: Tui De Roy)

(Credit: Tui De Roy)

Patience and restraint are key. Chasing the tuna in the open ocean would be futile, so they bide their time, creating enough commotion that the nervous tuna unwittingly swim into the trap. As soon as the tuna enter the cove, one sea lion turns back to guard the outlet, cutting off the exit route for any fish that might try to reverse course.

(Credit: Tui De Roy)

(Credit: Tui De Roy)

The others continue pushing the tuna toward the shallows, driving the fish into a frenzy. The fever-pitched activity attracts a veritable menagerie of other hungry species, including blacktip sharks (Carcharhinus limbatus). But the sea lions are undeterred.

(Credit: Tui De Roy)

(Credit: Tui De Roy)

Finally, the hunters herd the tuna around the curve near the end of the cove. Sensing the opportunity to swim back toward open water, the tuna shoot forward in a desperate final bid for freedom.

(Credit: Tui De Roy)

(Credit: Tui De Roy)

But the fish have hit a dead end, and many surge straight onto the rocks.

(Credit: Tui De Roy)

(Credit: Tui De Roy)

Those that turn back frequently find themselves swimming straight into the jaws of a waiting sea lion. For the sea lions, catching a tuna is just the first half of the battle.

(Credit: Tui De Roy)

(Credit: Tui De Roy)

In addition to competing with each other, they have to contend with the sharks And in the aftermath of a hunt, it’s not unusual for a big blacktip to steal an entire tuna from a sea lion’s jaws.

(Credit: Tui De Roy)

(Credit: Tui De Roy)

“The intensity is quite something,” says De Roy, who was standing waist-deep in the water at the end of one of these hunts. “There are big, roiling masses of sharks in the water, and they’re in feeding frenzy mode.”

(Credit: Tui De Roy)

(Credit: Tui De Roy)

But most of the time, if the hunt is successful, there is plenty of tuna to go around.

(Credit: Tui De Roy)

(Credit: Tui De Roy)

The biggest bulls lay claim to the choicest cuts of meat, leaving the heads and tails to be snatched up by younger sea lions and a suite of scavengers, like this Brown pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis). An entire community of species benefits from the hunts, many of which have also felt the pressure of a changing climate.

(Credit: Tui De Roy)

(Credit: Tui De Roy)

Because tuna herding requires such specific shoreline formations, it probably can’t ever be a full replacement for the sea lions’ other declining food sources. But it demonstrates an adaptability that gives scientists hope for the future of the species.

 

[This story originally appeared on BioGraphic]

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World
MORE ABOUT: animals

Alien Space Rock ‘Oumuamua Just Keeps Getting Weirder

By Alison Klesman | November 8, 2018 5:02 pm
Oumuamua

Last year, astronomers announced they’d detected a comet from another solar system: ‘Oumuamua. (Credit: NASA/ESA/STScI)

On October 19, 2017, astronomers first saw an object from another solar system traveling through our own. Zipping into our solar system from above, the interloper, now known as 1I/2017 U1 (‘Oumuamua), swung around the Sun and shot away again, never to return once it leaves our neck of the woods for interstellar space once more.

What have we learned about this mysterious visitor?
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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics, Top Posts

The 19th-Century Antarctic Air Molecules That Could Change Climate Models

By Anna Groves | November 7, 2018 4:16 pm
A gloved hand holds up a circular slice from an ice core against a dark sky.

Air bubbles trapped in a thin ice core slice. (Credit: Tas van Ommen/Australian Antarctic Division)

“Don’t forget to write!”

Friends and loved ones bid adieu to members of the latest research team to begin the long trek to Antarctica this weekend.

The goal of this latest expedition, which is scheduled to return mid-February, is to see whether concentrations of an atmospheric molecule called hydroxyl, or OH, has changed over time since the industrial revolution. The answer will greatly affect climate models: OH is responsible for degrading molecules like methane, one of our most potent greenhouse gases, in the atmosphere.

We checked in with Peter Neff, glaciologist and ice core aficionado at the University of Washington, before he left home on Sunday. This will be his fourth ice coring expedition to Antarctica.

Packing for Antarctica

Some of us have enough trouble packing for a weekend camping trip – imagine instead packing for three and a half months of remote living in subzero temperatures while maintaining important scientific equipment. Now try to stay within the bag limit.

After stocking up on long underwear – always wool-based, says Neff, synthetic doesn’t cut it – the team will first fly commercial to Hobart in Tasmania. They’ll spend a few days there getting outfitted before the four-hour flight on a small Airbus to Casey Station, an Antarctic base run by the Australian Antarctic Division. Their gear, however, takes up significantly more space: An additional fully-loaded C-17, a giant military-style cargo plane, will meet them there.

But Casey Station isn’t their final destination. After two more weeks of preparations there, the team will trek 90 more miles (150 kilometers) away from the base via tractor traverse. These transporters roll across the ice on a continuous track like a bulldozer or tank, pulling behind them what are essentially shipping containers on skis.

In those containers are things like a big diesel generator, a kitchenette space, and a bunk-style living space.

“I don’t actually anticipate that we’ll use (the bunks) much,” says Neff. “Those of us that sort of go down there often really prefer sleeping in mountain tents because it’s the only private personal space that you have for that amount of time.”

Before they can get to work, the group will have to finally assemble an entire research camp as quickly as possible in one of the most remote locations on the planet. Neff says he hopes the camp will be up and running by December, but that that might be overly optimistic.

Left, a red Antarctic overland vehicle sits, snow-splattered, on the ice. Right, orange and yellow tents are set up.

Antarctic tractor traverse and ice core drilling field camp at Law Dome in 2017. (Credit: Ricky Plowright/Australian Antarctic Division)

Hydroxyl: Atmospheric Detergent

But their privations are for good reason. The team is in search of information about hydroxyl (OH), a radical molecule of crucial importance to the health of our atmosphere. The radical name doesn’t just mean it’s hip and trendy – though it may become that, too, as attention to this mission grows. It’s a radical because it’s highly reactive.

For our chemistry-curious readers, the story of OH begins with atmospheric ozone (a molecule made up of three oxygen atoms, or O3) and water vapor (two hydrogens and an oxygen make an H2O).

When ozone in the atmosphere gets hit just right with the sun’s UV light, one of the three oxygen atoms gets booted off and immediately steals a hydrogen atom from a nearby H2O water molecule. This leaves us with two molecules that are just an O and an H.

But this reaction leaves each OH molecule one electron short of a complete set. These molecules want to fill this void so badly that they only exist in the atmosphere for about a second before sacrificing their OH identity in exchange for an even number of electrons. To do this, each OH is drawn to the nearest molecule it can “oxidize” — or pull electrons from – which happen to be atmospheric pollutants like carbon monoxide (CO) or methane (CH4).

This starts an atmospheric chain reaction that ends with a bunch of more stable – and non-polluting – molecules, some of which are recycled into new OH molecules. In other words, the OH molecule cleans up pollutants in the atmosphere.

Hydroxyl Throughout History

The Antarctic expedition is hoping to find out whether concentrations of OH have changed over time since the industrial revolution. To do this, they need to drill ice cores in a spot that’s gotten lots of snow for centuries.

When snow falls, it traps air molecules with it. Layer by layer, un-melted snow packs into ice that still has little bubbles of historical air trapped inside. This allows researchers to drill down into the ice to find out what the composition of the atmosphere was years ,or even centuries, ago. The deeper you drill, the older the ice, and the older the air trapped inside of it.

“How lucky are we that when snow falls, it has air trapped between it,” says Neff. “If you just have layer upon layer of snow, eventually those little fingers of snowflakes get turned into a little bubble capsule that perfectly preserves old atmosphere.”

Most of Antarctica is a polar desert, which means ice is everywhere, but snow isn’t as common. That’s why this new research camp has to be so remote – it’s in one of the only locations where enough snow has built up to trap over a century’s worth of air.

To complicate matters further, the OH molecules from the past are long gone. The researchers have to instead measure telltale by-products of the reactions they cause: carbon monoxide molecules that are made out of carbon-14 isotopes (rather than ordinary carbon-12 atoms).

Worse, when an ice core sample is brought to the surface, naturally occurring cosmic radiation reacts with ice to create more carbon-14. So to preserve the historical atmosphere, the researchers have to work ultra-fast to get the gas sample out of the ice and into another container.

“To avoid that contamination, we melt it as fast as possible,” explains Neff. “We have these hot potato ice cores that we put into the giant vacuum chamber that I built.”

Neff’s chamber, nicknamed the “hot tub time machine,” lets the researchers melt the ice on site and harvest the gas from the bubbles that had been trapped inside. The shelter built around the machine, appropriately, is the “melter shelter.” The canisters of old air will eventually be transported all the way back to labs in the U.S. for analysis.

Better Climate Models

In the end, the team will end up with estimates of atmospheric hydroxyl concentrations that date back to about 1880.

Because of the complicated way in which hydroxyl interacts with molecules like methane, current hypotheses conflict about whether increases in pollutant molecules in the atmosphere would increase, decrease, or have no effect on the concentrations of hydroxyl responsible for breaking them down.

This new research should answer that question – and have big implications for how scientists predict emissions to impact the future climate. But we won’t know the answer for months or more.

As for Neff and the other researchers on his team, they’re somewhere en route to Antarctica right now.

“It’s really difficult to kind of gracefully shut down your life,” says Neff. “I hope I said goodbye to enough people.”

Despite the challenges of working in Antarctica, Neff seems to enjoy his work. “We have a pretty good research community in ice core science,” he says. “I’ve been doing it now for more than ten years and it’s pretty amazing stuff to get to do.”

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Top Posts

Nemi Ships: How Caligula’s Floating Pleasure Palaces Were Found and Lost Again

By Paul Cooper | November 7, 2018 2:00 pm
Nemi ship

The second Nemi ship emerges from the lake. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

For centuries, the medieval fishermen who sailed in the placid waters of Lake Nemi, 19 miles south of Rome, knew a secret. It was said that the rotting timbers of a gigantic ancient shipwreck lurked below the water’s quiet surface. But the lake was tiny, with an area of only 0.6 square miles. And with no other body of water connected to it, what could a vessel of that size be doing there? Still, the stories about the gigantic ship persisted.

They couldn’t have known then, but at the bottom of this tiny lake were two of the most unique artifacts ever to be uncovered from the ancient world. Their story would span millennia,  bridging the eccentricities of Rome’s most notorious Emperor and one of the twentieth century’s most reviled rulers — only to be lost forever in the fires of war. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World
MORE ABOUT: archaeology

Sticky Science: Evolution of Spiderwebs

By Lindzi Wessel | November 6, 2018 3:27 pm
Spider Webs

Orb weavers, from the grouping Orbiculariae, make the classic, wheel-shaped spiderweb, as well as other intriguing designs. This tree hosts a sampling of Orbiculariae, illustrating the web diversity. Evolutionarily older spiders and their ancestors appear on the ground and trunk; more recent arrivals hang from the highest branches. (Credit: F. Vollrath and P. Selden/AR Ecology, Evolution and Systematics 2007 (Modified from Vollrath 1988))

It may seem silly to fear a little spider — but the predator’s appearances in horror movies make more sense when you consider the precision, skill and creativity it employs to target its prey. Spiders’ venom-injecting fangs and the pointy claws tipping their segmented legs are menacing enough, but their innovative use of silk to ensnare victims may be the biggest reason to be grateful they are small.

“They’re absolute masters of using silk,” says Paul Selden, an arachnologist and paleontologist at the University of Kansas. Other creepy-crawlies make the stuff, too — silkworms use it to pupate in, some ants make nests from it — but, says Selden, “they don’t have the great variety of uses that spiders do.” Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World
MORE ABOUT: animals, evolution

The Ongoing Debate Over Neanderthal Language

By Bridget Alex | November 5, 2018 4:26 pm
human neanderthal skulls

A comparison of skulls from a human (left) and a Neanderthal (right). (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Did Neanderthals have language? Before trying to answer that, I should admit my bias: I’m team Neanderthal. As an anthropologist who studies our evolutionary cousins, I’ve seen plenty of evidence suggesting Neanderthals were competent, complex, social creatures. In light of their apparent cognitive abilities, I’m inclined to believe they had language.

But I can’t prove it, and no one else can, either. To date, there’s no evidence that Neanderthals developed writing, so language, if it existed, would have been verbal. Unlike writing, spoken languages leave no physical trace behind. Our words vanish as soon as they’re spoken. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, Top Posts

“Why Is The Sun So Hot?” Is a Real Question Scientists Still Have

By Korey Haynes | November 2, 2018 4:00 pm
the sun in green and yellow

Despite decades of high-quality observations, many details about our sun are still unknown. Credit: NASA SVS

The fact that the sun is hot should not be news to a single person. The sun’s surface is about 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit, which seems toasty enough. But surrounding the sun is an atmosphere of sorts called the corona. This envelope of superheated gas — plasma, actually — measures more than 3 million degrees. And scientists are still trying to figure out how this outer layer is so much hotter than what lies beneath it.

The part that confuses scientists is quite simple: Since the sun’s heat source (which they do understand) is at its core, it should more or less cool as you move farther away from the center. But this isn’t what they observe. So, even with the sun right there, it’s not enough to explain how the corona is so much hotter than other layers. And before we move on, it’s probably a good reminder that heat is actually a measurement of how fast atoms are moving. So solar physicists are mostly looking for ways to accelerate this material, in a way that somehow happens only in the sizzling corona.

A Long-Standing Mystery

a solar eclipse

The sun’s corona appears during solar eclipse, when the rest of the sun is hidden from view. Credit: NASA/Rami Daud

Despite its heat, the corona is usually hidden from view thanks to the intense brightness of the rest of the sun. Even complex instruments have trouble studying it without being overwhelmed by light from across the sun’s surface. But that doesn’t mean its existence is a recent discovery. It appears in rare but predictable occurrences that have fascinated people for millennia: total solar eclipses. In 1869, astronomers took advantage of just such an eclipse to spy on the sun’s suddenly visible outermost layer. They even pointed a spectrometer at the gauzy light in order to fingerprint the elusive material. They spotted an unfamiliar green line that appeared to be a totally new element: coronium. Seventy years later, scientists realized it was actually the familiar element iron, heated to never-before-seen millions of degrees. This is hundreds of times the measured temperature of the sun’s surface, and was immediately baffling.

An early theory posited that acoustic waves (imagine the sun’s material compressing and expanding like an accordion) could be responsible for agitating the corona in much the way a wave can hurl water droplets at high speed onto the shore. But solar probes haven’t been able to find such waves carrying enough power to explain the observed coronal heat.

So for almost 150 years, it’s remained one of those small but irritating mysteries of science: scientists are quite sure their temperature readings of both the surface and the corona are reasonably correct, and more certain about the basic physics that the farther you are from a heat source, like a campfire, the cooler the temperature should be. The facts are assured, but the explanation has proved elusive.

Magnets: How Do They Work?

The sun emits powerful solar flares, captured here in a composite image from a year's worth of observations. Credit: NASA GSFC/SDO/S. Wiessinger

The sun emits powerful solar flares, captured here in a composite image from a year’s worth of observations. Credit: NASA GSFC/SDO/S. Wiessinger

Part of the problem is that we don’t understand a lot of the small-scale happenings on the sun. We know it does its job of heating our planet, and we know generally how. But the scale of the materials and forces at work simply don’t exist in a more accessible laboratory, and getting close enough to the sun to study it in detail is difficult, to say the least.

The answer to most questions about the sun these days seem to boil down to some version of the sun being a very complicated magnet. The Earth also spins its own magnetic field. But the Earth, despite oceans and underground magma, is still much more solid than the sun, which is just a big ball of gas and plasma. So the Earth spins more or less like a solid object.

Not so the sun. The sun spins, but because it’s not solid, its poles and equator spin at different rates. The sun also bubbles material up and down through its layers, like a pot of boiling water. The effect is a tangled mess of magnetic field lines. The charged particles that make up the sun’s outer layers travel these lines like trains on highspeed railways. These lines snarl and reconnect, releasing massive amounts of energy (solar flares) or leaving twists full of charged particles free to fly off those rails into space at ludicrous speed (a coronal mass ejection). But it’s possible that underneath what we see, the sun is undergoing near-constant nanoflares — tiny flares spiking to tens of millions of degrees that cumulatively could give rise to the corona’s hellish temperatures.

A longer-standing explanation have been waves. Heat, after all, is just particles moving very quickly. The faster particles move, the hotter they are. So much the way an ocean wave can send water crashing to the beach at high speeds, scientists thought waves through the sun’s interior might fling the sun’s outermost layer out. But for decades now, scientists have been able to measure that acoustic waves (imagine vibrations travelling through the sun like sound waves travel through air) don’t carry enough energy to be the source. But the sun is full of many different kinds of waves, so other kinds are still on the table — including Alfvén waves, which travel specifically in plasma and along magnetic lines, just the environment solar physicists are most interested in.

We have many satellites already tracking the sun, but the Parker Solar Probe, launched this year, is just starting its observations. It will continue observing until 2025. Scientists hope that by getting the closest-ever view of the sun, it will answer these questions about nanoflares or Alfvén waves or, as some already suspect, an even more complicated combination of both mechanisms.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics, Top Posts
MORE ABOUT: solar system, stars
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