Scientists at the Columbia Astrophysical Laboratory, using supercomputers, have discovered that high-energy particles that are dangerous to astronauts and aircraft are being born in the Sun’s atmosphere. The study is published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.
Astronomers at Columbia, NASA, and the US National Energy Research Computing Center have used supercomputers to simulate the behavior of ions and electrons in space. It turns out that magnetic fields in the Sun’s outer atmosphere are capable of accelerating particles to speeds close to the speed of light. At the same time, they fall to Earth, where they can disable satellites’ electronics and endanger the lives of astronauts. The radiation from them can also reach the air passengers. The results of the study will help predict such outbreaks more effectively.
Scientists have been trying to find the source of the high-energy particles for more than 70 years, long suspected to be created by the solar plasma that makes up the atmospheres of stars, including the Sun. Particles in plasma move randomly and unpredictably, so it is not yet possible to fully demonstrate how this happens.
Most of the observable matter in the universe is in the plasma state, so the scientists’ results will help us better understand the formation of high-energy particles in distant stars and around black holes. In the next few years, NASA’s Parker Solar Probe will travel to the Sun, where it will be able to confirm the paper’s findings by directly examining particles in the Sun’s outer atmosphere.
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