Skeins of glowing plasma tubes on the surface of the Sun

Spicules are vast, fast-moving tubes of plasma that cover the surface of the sun.
Spicules are vast, fast-moving tubes of plasma that cover the surface of the Sun.

The surface of the Sun is constantly covered in a writhing mass of filament-like strands of solar material that can move at speeds of up to 100 km per second and grow to lengths of 10,000 km before collapsing after a period of minutes. They are called spicules, and though scientists have observed them for more than a century, exactly how they form has remained a mystery.

New research by a team of American and Norwegian researchers, published in Science, has shed some light on the matter by running an extremely detailed computer simulation.

Their model suggests that spicules depend on interactions between charged and neutral particles and the Sun’s magnetic field, which can drag lines of the magnetic field up above the surface. This allows the field lines to straighten and eject material at high speed in a whiplash effect. The process may make a large contribution to heating the Sun’s atmosphere and the creation of the solar wind, and hence the movement of energy and matter throughout the solar system. 

The image above, showing the complex skeins of spicules covering a portion of the Sun’s surface, was taken in ultraviolet light by the Interferometric BIdimensional Spectropolarimeter (IBIS) at the US National Solar Observatory in New Mexico.

Read more at NASA.

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