Scientists have captured the first direct evidence of the sun’s magnetic field quickly switching directions, which could help explain the mysterious force that flings particles across our solar system.
The researchers observed the phenomenon using the Solar Orbiter probe, which was developed by the European Space Agency (ESA) and is jointly run with NASA. The probe, which launched into close orbit around the sun in February 2020, first spotted the abnormality in our star’s magnetic field in March this year. Using its Metis coronagraph to block out the glare of the sun’s disk and focus on its edges, the probe captured images of a puzzling S-shaped bend in the tendrils of wispy plasma streaming out from the sun’s corona, or upper atmosphere.
The scientists say the S-shaped kink is evidence of the sun’s magnetic field suddenly reversing — a long-hypothesized process known as a magnetic switchback. Previously, spacecraft such as the Helios 1 and 2 probes and NASA’s Parker Solar Probe have detected indirect evidence of switches in the sun’s magnetic field, but this is the first time that direct and visible evidence of a switchback has been captured. The researchers published their findings Sept. 12 in The Astrophysical Journal Letter