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date: 10 December 2018

Solar Wind Origin

This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Physics. Please check back later for the full article.

The Sun continuously expels a fraction of its own mass in the form of a steadily accelerating outflow of ionized gas called the “solar wind.”

The solar wind is the extension of the Sun’s hot (million-degree Celsius) outer atmosphere that is visible during solar eclipses as the bright and wispy corona. In 1958, Eugene Parker theorized that a hot corona could not exist for very long without beginning to accelerate some of its gas into interplanetary space. After more than a half century, Parker’s idea of a gas-pressure-driven solar wind still is largely accepted, although many questions remain unanswered. Specifically, the physical processes that heat the corona have not yet been identified conclusively, and the importance of additional wind acceleration mechanisms continue to be investigated. Variability in the solar wind also gives rise to a number of practical “space weather” effects on human life and technology, and there is still a need for more accurate forecasting. Fortunately, recent improvements in both observations (with telescopes and via direct sampling by space probes) and theory (with the help of ever more sophisticated computers) are leading to new generations of predictive and self-consistent simulations.

Attempts to model the origin of the solar wind are also leading to new insights into long-standing mysteries about turbulent flows, magnetic reconnection, and kinetic wave-particle resonances.

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