Researchers find giant convection cells on the Sun

December 6, 2013 by Bob Yirka report
Giant cell flow trajectories on the Sun for June 8, 2010. The underlying cell pattern shows westerly winds in red and easterly winds in blue. Credit: David Hathaway/NASA

(Phys.org) —A trio of researchers with affiliations with NASA and several U.S. institutions has found the elusive giant convection cells suspected for nearly a half century to exist on and within the sun. In their paper published in the journal Science, the team describes how they used data from a NASA observatory that captured solar information every 45 seconds over a several month period which allowed the researchers to track the slow movement of the giant cells.

The sun generates a lot of heat in its core, of course—heat that is conveyed to its outer portions and eventually into space. That process occurs due to convection, and scientists have known about two types of convection sources (known as cells) for quite some time: granules and super granules—the former are small and travel very rapidly while the latter are planet sized and travel less swiftly. Scientists have suspected for half a century that there is a third type of cell, a giant, also at play and that they have perhaps an even bigger impact on moving not just heat through the sun, but magnetism as well. In this new effort, the researchers report that they've been able to definitively identify such cells, moving them from theory, to an observed phenomenon.

The reason that researchers have had so much difficulty in identifying , is because they move so slowly. In finally finding them, the researchers have discovered that they move only at about ten meters per second—which when compared with the immense size of the sun, means they are not really going to stand out. To get past that problem, the researchers looked at minute-by-minute data from NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory. Averaging the data allowed for observation of large groups of super granules being moved by something else—giant cells.

This video is not supported by your browser at this time.
Giant cell flow trajectories on the Sun for June 8, 2010. The underlying cell pattern shows westerly winds in red and easterly winds in blue. Credit: David Hathaway/NASA

Besides proving theory correct, identifying giant cells on the might help to better predict solar events that have a direct impact on us—solar flares, , etc.—all can wreak havoc on man-made electronics. Figuring out how to predict such events and to determine their size in advance could go a long way towards helping to build a system to automatically shut down sensitive equipment before such an event occurs.

Explore further: Double trouble (w/ Video)

More information: Giant Convection Cells Found on the Sun, Science 6 December 2013: Vol. 342 no. 6163 pp. 1217-1219 DOI: 10.1126/science.1244682

Related Stories

Double trouble (w/ Video)

July 23, 2013

Two solar eruptions expand side-by-side into space in this movie, playing out in front of the ESA/NASA Solar and Heliospheric Observatory, SOHO, on 1–2 July 2013.

Sun continues to emit solar flares

October 28, 2013

After emitting its first significant solar flares since June 2013 earlier in the week, the sun continued to produce mid-level and significant solar flares on Oct. 27 and Oct. 28, 2013.

Suspected dust ring in Venus's orbit confirmed

November 22, 2013

(Phys.org) —A trio of researchers from The Open University and the University of Central Lancashire in the U.K., has confirmed that a ring of dust surrounds the sun in the orbit of Venus. In their paper published in the ...

SOHO shows new images of Comet ISON

November 27, 2013

As Comet ISON heads toward its closest approach to the sun—known as perihelion—on Nov. 28, 2013, scientists have been watching through many observatories to see if the comet has already broken up under the intense heat ...

Image: Comet ISON on Thanksgiving Day

November 29, 2013

Comet ISON has moved quite close to the sun as seen by from ESA/NASA's Solar and Heliospheric Observatory captured at 10:51 a.m. EST on Nov. 28, 2013.

Recommended for you

New Horizons team selects potential Kuiper Belt flyby target

August 29, 2015

NASA has selected the potential next destination for the New Horizons mission to visit after its historic July 14 flyby of the Pluto system. The destination is a small Kuiper Belt object (KBO) known as 2014 MU69 that orbits ...

Ceres image: The lonely mountain

August 25, 2015

NASA's Dawn spacecraft spotted this tall, conical mountain on Ceres from a distance of 915 miles (1,470 kilometers).

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

ForFreeMinds
1 / 5 (2) Dec 07, 2013
I'd like to congratulate and thank the researchers who figured this out. Bravo!

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.