Scientists spot mysterious new structures in the Sun’s atmosphere

Which could help scientists further understand the behaviour of the solar wind

solar-plumes

The phenomenon appears at the boundaries of holes in the Sun’s corona. Credit: NASA/STEREO/NRL

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Even after thousands of years of observation, it seems the Sun still has secrets to divulge. Scientists have recently discovered a completely new phenomenon in the solar atmosphere.

Whilst analysing images from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), solar scientist, Neil Sheeley, spotted an arrangement of cells with bright centres and dark edges, appearing in the Sun’s corona.

Although similar patterns have been observed on the Sun’s surface, this was the first time anything like this had been seen higher up in the corona, an area usually dominated by bright loops and dark coronal holes.

Using images of these anomalies, dubbed ‘coronal cells’, taken from different angles by SDO, and cameras onboard a fleet of spacecraft from NASA’s Heliophysics System Observatory, scientists were able to visualise the phenomenon in three dimensions.

They discovered that the coronal cells appear to be vast columns of gas shooting upwards through the Sun’s atmosphere and, despite appearing cell like from above, from the side look like wispy flames.

These coronal cells appear between coronal holes – colder and less dense areas of the corona – and filament channels, the boundaries that separate sections of upward and downward pointing magnetic fields.

Scientists now hope that by understanding how coronal cells evolve, they will learn more about how solar winds are affected by the ever-changing magnetic fields around coronal holes.


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Click here to see footage of coronal cells as they change from cells to plumes