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Tuesday, January 31, 2023

How Sun Sleeps: IISER Study Reveals What Happens When Solar Activity Is Missing

The Sun has been extremely active this year as it reaches the peak of its solar cycle and just in the last week, it has hurtled three solar flares, 18 coronal mass ejections, and 1 geomagnetic storm. But it has not been like this forever. There have been times when the sunspots on the surface completely vanish and the star in our solar system appears to be sleeping.Also Read – Tarantula, Skeletons, Frankenstein And Everything Scary About NASA's H(alloween)Exoplanets

Researchers at the Center of Excellence in Space Sciences India at the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER), Kolkata have revealed what happens when the activity on the sun is completely missing and how the star regains its energy to burst with life and hurtle dangerous flares throughout the solar system, as per a report by India Today. Also Read – NASA Uncovers Blue Cosmic Bubble. All You Must Know About This Unique Nebula 7100 Light Years Away

The findings published in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society reveal that even when the sun is deep asleep there are churnings in the polar and interior regions of the star. Researchers found that the Sun’s internal dynamo mechanism which sustains the solar cycle is still hard at work during these quiet periods. Also Read – Do You Know How Moon Was Formed? Scientists Have A New Revelation. Find Out

WHEN IS THE SUN ASLEEP?

There have been episodes in the past when the activity on the Sun has been at an all-time low with no sunspots. This period is known as the grand minimum, which is characterised by significant reductions in solar radiation and particulate output.

Astronomers have found that the waxing and waning of the number of sunspots observed on the star’s surface came to a grinding halt during 1645-1715. This has not been a standalone event, such minima have been recorded throughout the Sun’s life, which is 4.6 billion years old.

While we know what happens on the surface of the Sun, during this period, there is little information about the activity in the polar and interior regions. It is widely believed the large-scale magnetic cycle of the Sun switches off during these phases, the new study points to the fact that it does not mean the complete shutdown of the activity.

WHAT HAVE RESEARCHERS FOUND?

The study conducted by Ph.D. student at IISER Chitradeep Saha along with Sanghita Chandra and Professor Dibyendu Nandy reveals that magnetic fields in the Sun’s interior remain rather busy during these apparently dormant phases. The magnetic activity persists in the form of weak cycles in the convection zone that is incapable of producing sunspots.

The team also demonstrated the ceaseless overturning motion of the plasma in the solar convection zone that acts as a clock, driving weak magnetic cycles within the Sun during what were believed to be phases of extreme inactivity.

“Our 10,000-year-long computer simulations shed light on the dynamics that go on in the solar interior (convection zone) and at the polar regions even when there are critically low number of sunspot eruptions on the solar surface for a prolonged period known as grand solar minimum. The ceaseless plasma motion and turbulent fluctuations in the convection zone eventually helps the star regain its regular magnetic activity again,” Chitradeep Saha, lead author of the paper told indiatoday.in.

The study is set to aid future missions planned to study the Sun, with a focus on the interior and the polar regions that have remained enigmatic to astronomers. At the moment, two major missions Nasa’s Parker Solar Probe and Europe’s Solar Orbiter, are inching closer to the star to study the developments and to better understand space weather.

India is also planning to launch the Aditya L-1 mission that will study the Sun in finer detail.

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