The Parker Solar Probe is, in order to better understand the near perfect sphere of hot plasma that powers our solar system. But back on Earth scientists have looked to decades old data, and they’ve found something interesting: blobs. Literal blobs.
Not just regular blobs. Big blobs. Officially called “periodic density structures”, these blobs in the solar wind emit from the sun in burps and they can be anything from 50 to 500 times as large as Earth. Apparently these things emerge from the sun roughly every 90 minutes.
“They look like the blobs in a lava lamp,” said Nicholeen Viall, a research astrophysicist at NASA/Goddard Space Centre, speaking to Space.
Scientists have been aware of these lava lamp-esque blobs for decades, but it’s only now we’re seeing them direct from the source. They were found via a re-examination of 45-year-old data from German-NASA spacecraft Helios 1 and Helios 2 (probes sent to the sun in 1974 and 1976). Using this data PhD student Simone Di Matteo spotted patterns in data consistent with trails of blobs oozing from the Sun.
The findings were published in JGR Space Physics.
Earth’s magnetic field most protects us from the impact of these blobs, but they do have the potential to interfere with our satellites and communication systems.
There’s much we don’t know about these blobs, and one of the many reasons NASA sent the Parker Solar Probe towards the sun was to learn more about the nature of solar wind and blobs like these “periodic density structures”. The Probe recently finished its second close fly-by of the sun and will begin filtering data back to Earth.
“This is one of those studies that brought up more questions than we answered, but that’s perfect for Parker Solar Probe,” said Viall in a statement.
Eventually, NASA hopes, the probe will get close enough to catch blobs immediately after their formed, direct from the sun.