Discovery of Rossby waves in the Sun’s atmosphere

While it was thought that they only occur on Earth, physicists have just discovered the existence of Rossby waves in the atmosphere of the Sun.

Using the SDO (Solar Dynamics Observatory) and STEREO (Solar TErrestrial RElations Observatory) spacecraft, a team of physicists was able to discover the existence of Rossby waves (or planetary waves) in the Sun’s atmosphere. They publish their results in the journal Nature Astronomy.

What are Rossby waves? These are large-scale wave motions that appear in the atmosphere and in the oceans of planet Earth. They appear in fluid flows in rotating frames of reference and strongly influence meteorology. They are a direct consequence of variations in the Coriolis force and were discovered in the 1920s by the Swedish physicist Carl Gustaf Rossby (1898-1957).

The physics of the Sun’s atmosphere being in a rotating reference frame like that of the Earth, physicists wanted to find out if there was an equivalent to Rossby waves for our star. They thus discovered the existence waves resembling Rossby waves which they call magnetic Rossby waves.

Thus, like the Earth, these waves would influence solar meteorology and would have their share of responsibility in solar flares or the appearance of sunspots. The physicists’ observations come from data collected between 2011 and 2014 by the SDO and STEREO satellites.

This discovery should make it possible to learn much more about solar meteorology in the years to come and be of great help to humans as well. Indeed, solar flares can in particular damage the satellites which are essential to the functioning of our modern societies. This could also contribute to better preparing for future manned space missions, which concern Mars and the Moon in particular.

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