A team of scientists has created a new, high-resolution model of the complex magnetic activity on the surface of the Sun. The result is as spellbinding as it is terrifying. Gaze into the roiling ball of plasma that supports everything you hold dear, and feel your sanity slip away.
Astronomers have long known that there’s more happening on the surface of the Sun than meets the eye. Our star’s activity rises and falls according to an 11 year solar cycle, in which twisted magnetic bands, fueled by the rotation of the Sun’s deep interior, migrate across the surface. During that cycle, the amount of high-energy plasma ejected from the surface of the Sun waxes and wanes, giving rise to periods of more or less space weather here on Earth.
The 11 year solar cycle is a complex beast on its own, but it’s only part of the story. Activity on the surface of the Sun is also driven by smaller, “chaotic” magnetic fields, resulting from turbulence. Now, a Japanese-led team of researchers has created a model that incorporates both aspects of the Sun’s activity—small-scale chaos and large-scale order—at the same time.
The result is the most physically accurate representation of our Sun’s magnetic field yet. Simulations like this could help us predict when the Sun is gearing up to hurl billions of tons of magnetized particles our direction in a coronal mass ejection. Still, our ability to do anything about such eruptions is non-existent. The more we learn about our star, the more evident it becomes that we live at the mercy of a monster.