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The sun has thrown us a fractal surprise. An unexpected pattern has been glimpsed in the solar wind, the turbulent plasma of charged particles that streams from the sun. It offers clues for handling plasmas that roil inside nuclear fusion reactors on Earth.

Composed of charged particles such as protons and electrons, the solar wind streams from the sun and pervades the solar system. Its flow is turbulent, containing eddies and moving at different speeds in different directions. It was thought that this turbulence was similar to that in a fluid, behaving like mixing ocean currents or the air flows that make aeroplane flights bumpy.

Now, Sandra Chapman of the University of Warwick, UK, and her colleagues have examined the solar wind's behaviour using NASA's twin STEREO spacecraftMovie Camera. One flies just within Earth's orbit around the sun, the other just outside it, allowing the pair to obtain unique measurements of solar wind behaviour.

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