NASA’s Magnetospheric Multiscale mission (MMS) has captured an “interplanetary shock” on the Sun for the first time. Incredible footage shows a clump of ions from the solar wind fly away from the Sun as they “bounce off” the shock. The charged particles can be seen flying away from the side of the Sun before spreading out into the solar system.
In a statement on its website, NASA confirmed that the evidence “supports a theory of energy transfer first posed in the 1980s”.
The video was captured by NASA’s Magnetospheric Multiscale Mission (MMS), a project which has spent the last four years using high-resolution instruments to capture never-before-seen images.
NASA explained: “Interplanetary shocks are a type of collisionless shock — ones where particles transfer energy through electromagnetic fields instead of directly bouncing into one another.
“These collisionless shocks are a phenomenon found throughout the universe, including in supernovae, black holes and distant stars.
NASA news: the video captured the first recorded interplanetary shock
“MMS studies collisionless shocks around Earth to gain a greater understanding of shocks across the universe.”
The interplanetary shock was captured by NASA’s MMS on January 8, 2018.
NASA tweeted the footage, posting: “Shocking!
“Using special instruments to see what no other spacecraft can, our Magnetospheric Multiscale mission made the 1st high-resolution measurements of an interplanetary shock made of particles & electromagnetic waves launched by the Sun.”
NASA added: “Looking at the data from January 8, the scientists noticed a clump of ions from the solar wind.
“Shortly after, they saw a second clump of ions, created by ions already in the area that had bounced off the shock as it passed by.
“Analysing this second population, the scientists found evidence to support a theory of energy transfer first posed in the 1980s."
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According to NASA, the Sun’s expansion is caused by the rapid burning of helium at the core, which causes surface layers of the star to expand.
As the star expands, the habitability zone around the star shrinks, making it harder for life to exist. This process of expansion has been going since the Sun formed 4.5 billion years ago.
Thankfully, in the last four billion years the Sun has barely grown by 20 percent “at most”. NASA said: “It will not grow by much more than another factor of a few for the next six billion years, but at that distant time, it will make a rapid transition to a red giant phase and its outer surface will expand by several hundred times to perhaps the orbit of Venus.
“Astronomers have searched for short term changes in the radius of the Sun, but have not been able to find much reliable evidence that the sun's diameter is changing, at least over times as short as the solar cycle.”
Just like every other star in the universe, the Sun will eventually run out of fuel to burn and die. As the star approaches its final days, it will start to swell into a Red Giant and consume Mercury, Venus and maybe even Earth.
After that, the Sun will shrink down to an incredibly hot and dense core known as a White Dwarf. Thankfully, NASA does not expect this to happen for another six to six-and-a-half billion years.