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Researchers find giant convection cells on the Sun

Posted December 9, 2013
Researchers find giant convection cells on the Sun
Giant cell flow trajectories on the Sun for June 8, 2010. The underlying cell pattern shows westerly winds in red and easterly winds in blue. Credit: David Hathaway/NASA
A trio of researchers with affiliations with NASA and several U.S. institutions has found the elusive giant convection cells suspected for nearly a half century to exist on and within the sun. In their paper published in the journal Science, the team describes how they used data from a NASA observatory that captured solar information every 45 seconds over a several month period which allowed the researchers to track the slow movement of the giant cells.


The sun generates a lot of heat in its core, of course—heat that is conveyed to its outer portions and eventually into space. That process occurs due to convection, and scientists have known about two types of convection sources (known as cells) for quite some time: granules and super granules—the former are small and travel very rapidly while the latter are planet sized and travel less swiftly. Scientists have suspected for half a century that there is a third type of cell, a giant, also at play and that they have perhaps an even bigger impact on moving not just heat through the sun, but magnetism as well. In this new effort, the researchers report that they’ve been able to definitively identify such cells, moving them from theory, to an observed phenomenon.

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