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Solar Wind

This is an artist’s rendering of solar wind coming towards the Earth and its magnetosphere.

The Sun is flinging 1 million tons of matter out into space every second! We call this material solar wind. Once the solar wind is blown into space, the particles travel at supersonic speeds of 200-800 km/sec! These particles travel all the way past Pluto and do not slow down until they reach the termination shock within the heliosphere. The Heliosphere is the entire region of space influenced by the Sun.

The solar wind plasma is very thin. Near the Earth, the plasma is only about 6 particles per cubic centimeter. So, even though the wind travels SUPER fast, it wouldn’t even ruffle your hair if you were to stand in it because it’s so thin! But, it is responsible for such unusual things as:

  • auroral lights
  • fueling magnetospheric storms
  • forming a planet’s magnetosphere

The particles of the solar wind, and the Sun’s magnetic field (IMF) are stuck together, therefore the solar wind carries the IMF (interplanetary magnetic field)with it into space.

Instruments like SWICS and SWOOPS onboard the Ulysses probe are studying solar wind. They are hoping to make a 3-D map of solar wind characteristics throughout the heliosphere.

source: windows to the universe


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