New mysterious sun waves point to new theories for astrophysicists

illustrated waves sun, abu dhabi

An artistic impression of the high-frequency retrograde (HFR) vorticity waves. These waves appear as swirling motions near the equator of the Sun. These mysterious waves move in the opposite direction to the sun’s rotation, which is to the right, three times faster than what is allowed by hydrodynamics alone.

Scientists have discovered that there is a new kind of wave emitted by the sun that doesn’t fit existing theories. The researchers from the NYU Abu Dhabi’s Center for Space Science have found this new set of waves appear to travel much faster than predicted by theory. The discovery sheds insight into the matter that makes up the sun

If you want to meet dreamers to ask them questions about our planet and the universe around us, ask an astrophysicist

Published in Nature Astronomy, the researchers – led by Chris S. Hanson — detail how they analyzed 25 years of space and ground-based data to detect these waves. The high-frequency retrograde (HFR) waves – which move in the opposite direction of the Sun’s rotation – appear as a pattern of vortices (swirling motions) on the surface of the Sun and move at three times the speed established by current theory. 

“The very existence of HFR modes and their origin is a true mystery and may allude to exciting physics at play,” said Shravan Hanasoge, a co-author of the paper. “It has the potential to shed insight on the otherwise unobservable interior of the Sun.”

Discovery can shed light on stars

solar image sun, NASA

If we understand the physics of the sun, we can better understand the origin the universe.

The interior of the Sun and stars cannot be imaged by conventional astronomy (optical or x-ray etc.), and scientists rely on interpreting the surface signatures of a variety of waves to image the interiors. These new HFR waves may yet be an important puzzle piece in our understanding of stars.

Complex interactions between other well known waves and magnetism, gravity or convection could drive the HFR waves at this speed. “If the HFR waves could be attributed to any of these three processes, then the finding would have answered some open questions we still have about the Sun,” said Hanson. “However, these new waves don’t appear to be a result of these processes, and that’s exciting because it leads to a whole new set of questions.”

By studying the Sun’s interior dynamics – through the use of waves – scientists can better appreciate the Sun’s potential impact on the Earth and other planets in our solar system.


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