The Sun Just Produced the Strongest Magnetic Field Ever Seen and No One Can Explain It
When a team of Japanese astronomers were combing through four-year-old solar data, they never expected to discover a giant sunspot with strong, magnetic iron atoms on it. Nor did they expect this sunspot to be the strongest magnetic field on the surface of the Sun.
Joten Okamoto and Takashi Sakurai at the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan were analyzing data from the Solar Optical Telescope onboard HINODE when they detected the sunspot and discovered it had a magnetic field 6,2500 gauss strong—more than double the strength of those around most sunspots.
"HINODE's continuous high-resolution data allowed us to analyze the sunspots in detail to investigate the distribution and time evolution of the strong magnetic field and also the surrounding environment," said Okamoto in a statement. "Finally, the longtime mystery of the formation mechanism of a stronger field outside an umbra than in the umbra, has been solved."
"Umbra" refers to the circular dark core of a sunspot, which contains a vertical magnetic field and a "penumbra," made of fine threads, that acts as a horizontal field. Hence, the sunspot's strongest magnetic field is usually located in the umbra.
This strong sunspot was found with the exact opposite characteristics during their study, however—not in the umbra's dark part, but in a bright region between two sunspots.
"These continuous data showed that the strong field was always located at the boundary between the bright region and the umbra, and that the horizontal gas flows along the direction of the magnetic fields over the bright region turned down into the Sun when they reached the strong-field area," said the statement. "This indicates that the bright region with the strong field is a penumbra belonging to the southern umbra (S-pole). The horizontal gas flows from the southern umbra compressed the fields near the other umbra (N-pole) and enhanced the field strength to more than 6,000 gauss."
Scientists recently did the math and calculated that Earth is slowly drifting away from the Sun, into the darkness of space. Meanwhile, scientists determined that the Sun is also slowly losing its mass by studying its neighboring planet, Mercury, which showed the most signs of change as its orbit began shifting. After charting a road map of Mercury's orbit, they were able to study changes in its trajectory. Their findings eventually led to the conclusion that the Sun's change in mass could push back every planet—Earth included—by up to a half inch per year.