Solar wind

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The solar wind is a stream of charged particles ejected from the upper atmosphere of the Sun. It mostly consists of electrons and protons with energies usually between 10 and 100 keV. The stream of particles varies in temperature and speed over time. These particles can escape the Sun's gravity because of their high kinetic energy and the high temperature of the corona.

The solar wind creates the heliosphere, a vast bubble in the interstellar medium that surrounds the solar system. Other phenomena include geomagnetic storms that can knock out power grids on Earth, the aurorae (northern and southern lights), and the plasma tails of comets that always point away from the Sun.

Contents

History

The continuous stream of particles flowing outward from the Sun was first suggested by British astronomer Richard C. Carrington. In 1859, Carrington and Richard Hodgson independently made the first observation of what would later be called a solar flare. This is a sudden outburst of energy from the Sun's atmosphere. On the following day, a geomagnetic storm was observed, and Carrington suspected that there may be a connection. George Fitzgerald later suggested that matter was being regularly accelerated away from the Sun and was reaching the Earth after several days.[1]

The ideas of Fitzgerald and others were further developed by the Norwegian physicist Kristian Birkeland. His geomagnetic surveys showed that auroral activity was nearly uninterrupted. As these displays and other geomagnetic activity were being produced by particles from the Sun, he concluded that the Earth was being continually bombarded by "rays of electric corpuscles emitted by the Sun".[1] In 1916, Birkeland was probably the first person to successfully predict that, "From a physical point of view it is most probable that solar rays are neither exclusively negative nor positive rays, but of both kinds". In other words, the solar wind consists of both negative electrons and positive ions.[2] Three years later in 1919, Frederick Lindemann also suggested that particles of both polarities, protons as well as electrons, come from the Sun.[3]

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