Heard of solar wind? It’s a constant stream of ionized gas ejecting from the sun, becoming more turbulent and destructive the further away from the sun they get. It was discovered in 1958 and we still know very little about it. Thankfully, NASA’s at it again with the Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory (STEREO) proving once and for all that silly abbreviations don’t just exist in fiction.
Take a look at this video with disturbingly soft-spoken narration. It shows the “edge” of the sun’s atmosphere, known as the corona. They discovered that as plasma ejects further from the sun, magnetic influences on that plasma weaken.
“Eventually, the material starts to act more like a gas, and less like a magnetically structured plasma.” Says Craig DeForest, solar physicist at the Southwest Research Institute.
Before STEREO came along to take these snapshots, we had no way of knowing for sure how solar winds worked, and could only guess. Initially, STEREO’s shots didn’t seem like they’d solve this problem, because free-floating electrons in that space reflected light all willy nilly, making for unusably gloomy shots.
Thankfully, photo editing exists, and once this team of highly trained scientists remembered that, they were able to remove the “noise” from the images and get a nice clean look at the corona.
So, what does this mean? It means that scientists can now build a better understanding of how stars work and the influence they hold on the space around them. From that, they can find ways to better protect the astronauts and robots that will increasingly be going off on space missions as we desperately look for ways to claw our way off this dying planet.