Has SOHO ended a 30-year quest for solar ripples?

May 03, 2007

The ESA-NASA Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) may have glimpsed long-sought oscillations on the Sun's surface. The data will reveal details about the very core of our central star and it contains clues as to how the Sun formed, 4.6 billion years ago.

The subtle variations reveal themselves as a minuscule ripple in the overall movement of the solar surface. Astronomers have been searching for ripples of this kind since the 1970s, when they first detected that the solar surface was oscillating in and out.

The so-called 'g-modes' are driven by gravity and provide information about the deep interior of the Sun. They are thought to occur when gas churning below the solar surface plunges even deeper into our star and collides with denser material, sending ripples propagating through the Sun's interior and up to the surface. It is the equivalent of dropping a stone in a pond.

Unfortunately for observers, these waves are badly degraded during their passage to the solar surface. By the time g-modes reach the exterior, they are little more than ripples a few metres high. To make matters more difficult, the g-modes take between two and seven hours to oscillate just once. So, astronomers are faced with having to detect a swell on the surface that rises a metre or two over several hours.

Now, however, astronomers using the Global Oscillation at Low Frequency (GOLF) instrument on SOHO think they may have caught glimpses of this behaviour. Instead of looking for an individual oscillation, they looked for the signature of the cumulative effect of a large number of these oscillations.

By analogy, imagine that the Sun was an enormous piano playing all the notes simultaneously. Instead of looking for a particular note (middle C for instance) it would be easier to search for all the 'C's, from all the octaves together.

In the piano their frequencies are related to each other just as on the Sun, one class of g modes are separated by about 24 minutes.

"So that's what we looked for, the cumulative effect of several g modes," says Rafael A. García, DSM/DAPNIA/Service d'Astrophysique, France. They combined ten years of data from GOLF and then searched for any hint of the signal at 24 minutes. They found it.

"We must be cautious but if this detection is confirmed, it will open a brand new way to study the Sun's core," says García.

Until now, the rotation rate of the solar core was uncertain. If the GOLF detection is confirmed, it will show that the solar core is definitely rotating faster than the surface.

The rotation speed of the solar core is an important constraint for investigating how the entire Solar System formed, because it represents the hub of rotation for the interstellar cloud that eventually formed the Sun and all the bodies around it. The next step for the team is to refine the data to increase their confidence in the detection. To do this, they plan to incorporate data from other instruments, both on SOHO and at ground-based observatories.

"By combining data from space (VIRGO and MDI, on SOHO) and ground (GONG and BiSON) instruments, we hope to improve this detection and open up a new branch of solar science," says García.

Source: European Space Agency

Explore further: A recoiling, supermassive black hole

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Rosetta data give closest-ever look at a comet

Jan 22, 2015

On Nov. 12, 2014, the European Space Agency's Rosetta mission made history when its Philae lander touched down on the surface of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. While this exciting technical achievement ...

Vesta is not an intact protoplanet

Dec 16, 2014

Nearly forty years ago, Guy Consolmagno was young graduate student at the University of Arizona's Department of Planetary Sciences; his work there with the late Michael Drake first proposed that asteroid ...

Recommended for you

Black hole chokes on a swallowed star

1 hour ago

A five-year analysis of an event captured by a tiny telescope at McDonald Observatory and followed up by telescopes on the ground and in space has led astronomers to believe they witnessed a giant black hole ...

Swarm of microprobes to head for Jupiter

7 hours ago

A swarm of tiny probes each with a different sensor could be fired into the clouds of Jupiter and grab data as they fall before burning up in the gas giant planet's atmosphere. The probes would last an estimated ...

A recoiling, supermassive black hole

11 hours ago

When galaxies collide, the central supermassive black holes that reside at their cores will end up orbiting one another in a binary pair, at least according to current simulations. Einstein's general theory ...

Chandra celebrates the International Year of Light

Jan 23, 2015

The year of 2015 has been declared the International Year of Light (IYL) by the United Nations. Organizations, institutions, and individuals involved in the science and applications of light will be joining ...

Why is Andromeda coming toward us?

Jan 23, 2015

I don't want to alarm you, but there's a massive galaxy heading our way and will collide with us in a few billion years. But aren't most galaxies speeding away? Why is Andromeda on a collision course with ...

User comments : 0

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.