Our Sun Has Waves Just Like Earth: How an NYU Abu Dhabi Professor and Max Planck Astrophysicists Stumbled Upon This Discovery

Tuesday, 08 May 2018 - 12:33PM
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Tuesday, 08 May 2018 - 12:33PM
Our Sun Has Waves Just Like Earth: How an NYU Abu Dhabi Professor and Max Planck Astrophysicists Stumbled Upon This Discovery
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A team of astrophysicists at the Max Planck Institute lead by a research professor from NYU Abu Dhabi have made the groundbreaking discovery that our Sun has huge waves similar to those that control the weather here on Earth.

These are called "Rossby waves." While you've probably heard of the North Atlantic Current (and maybe even the Horse Latitudes), chances are you've never heard of Rossby waves – gigantic planetary waves created by the rotation of the Earth.

Here's how NOAA describes them:

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"Unlike waves that break along the shore, Rossby waves are huge, undulating movements of the ocean that stretch horizontally across the planet for hundreds of kilometers in a westward direction. They are so large and massive that they can change Earth's climate conditions."
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Rossby waves can also be created in the atmosphere, and are a major influence on jet streams. In fact, you can model oceanic and atmospheric Rossby waves right on top of each other, like this:



The Sun's Rossby waves fall across its equatorial region. These are massive waves – it's estimated that they account for a full half of the sun's large-scale kinetic energy. According to Laurent Gizon, an NYU Abu Dhabi professor and one of the principal investigators on the new study (published in Nature Astronomy):

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"That these waves are so big and are only seen in the equatorial regions of the Sun is completely unexpected."
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Whether or not the Sun had Rossby waves was a subject of contention, but this new study proves it once and for all – and figures out why the waves were so hard to spot in the first place. According to the researchers, the waves had a very small amplitude, making them hard to detect. And if you think giant planet-spanning waves would be easy to spot, maybe you should check out this breathtaking video for a little reminder of what the surface of the Sun looks like...

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