Risky Maneuver Sheds Light on 65-Year-Old Mystery of the Incredibly High Solar Corona Temperature

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Image source: ESA/NASA

Scientists are inching closer to understanding the reasons behind the incredibly high temperature of the Sun’s atmosphere, which reaches a million degrees Celsius, a temperature 150 times hotter than the star’s surface. Thanks to a unique collaboration between the space probes Solar Orbiter and Parker Solar Probe, and an unconventional maneuver by the latter, researchers have gained data that could shed light on this cosmic mystery that has puzzled scientists for 65 years.

The Sun’s corona, the outermost, rarefied, and hottest layer of its atmosphere, has long intrigued scientists with its anomalous temperature. The explanation for this phenomenon seemed counterintuitive because, typically, temperatures decrease as one moves farther away from a heat source.

To unravel this mystery, scientists turned their attention to the turbulent process, which is believed to play a crucial role in heating the Sun’s corona. This process can be likened to stirring coffee in a cup: through turbulent motions, energy is transferred from larger scales to smaller ones, ultimately interacting with individual particles, primarily protons, heating them. Magnetic fields present in the corona can amplify this interaction, serving as an additional energy source for plasma heating.

To comprehensively study this phenomenon, the space probes Solar Orbiter and Parker Solar Probe were enlisted. While Solar Orbiter worked in tandem with Parker Solar Probe, providing remote sensing and direct measurements closer to the Sun, scientists focused on gaining a more complete picture of the ongoing processes.

A pivotal moment in the research was a maneuver executed by Solar Orbiter, which involved a 45-degree rotation and deviation from its initial trajectory. This allowed the probe to concentrate on a specific region and synchronize data collection with Parker Solar Probe. Daniele Telloni from the Italian National Institute for Astrophysics (INAF) noted that this maneuver carried some risk, but it ultimately provided unique data.

By comparing these new measurements with theoretical predictions made by physicists studying the Sun for many years, Telloni stated that physicists were almost certainly correct in identifying turbulence as a means of energy transfer.

The research results represent a significant leap forward in understanding the processes taking place in the solar corona. “This work opens up a completely new dimension in this research,” emphasized Gary Zank from the University of Alabama in Huntsville, USA.

Now, scientists have the opportunity not only to confirm the long-standing theory regarding turbulence’s role in corona heating but also to thoroughly investigate the mechanisms behind this process. This discovery undoubtedly marks a milestone in astrophysics, paving the way for future research. “This work represents a significant step forward in solving the coronal heating problem,” noted Daniel Müller, a project scientist.

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Vasyl Kolomiiets
Vasyl Kolomiiets
I'm Vasyl Kolomiiets, a seasoned tech journalist regularly contributing to global publications. Having a profound background in information technologies, I seamlessly blended my technical expertise with my passion for writing, venturing into technology journalism. I've covered a wide range of topics including cutting-edge developments and their impacts on society, contributing to leading tech platforms.

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