Research

Where Does the Sun End?

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How do you define the edge of our sun? There’s a distinct surface to it, but our star is also surrounded by the corona, an even hotter region of plasma twisted by magnetic fields. The corona is sort of like the sun’s atmosphere. Farther out in the solar system, we receive a constant barrage of charged particles, known as the solar wind, that streams out from the sun. So where does the corona end and the solar wind begin?

Scientists have been studying the flow structure of the solar wind in search of an answer to this question, and they’ve found that there’s a clear transition point about 32 million kilometers from the sun. At this distance, the sun’s magnetic field weakens to the point where it no longer exerts the same hold on the solar particles and they begin to move turbulently, behaving more like a gas than a plasma. With special measurements and image processing, scientists were able to actually see this flow change in the solar wind! (Video/image credit: NASA; research credit: C. DeForest et al.; via FlowViz)

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