Scientists discover a mysterious type of ultra-fast wave in the Sun

Researchers at the Space Science Center at New York University Abu Dhabi (NYUAD) have discovered a new set of waves on the Sun that appear to travel much faster than predicted by theory. In the scientific paper “Discovery of high-frequency retrograde vorticity waves on the Sun,” published in the journal Nature Astronomy, the researchers – led by research associate Chris S. Hanson – detailed how they analyzed 25 years of space and terrestrial data to detect these waves.

An artistic simulation of high frequency retrograde vorticity waves (HFR). These waves appear as swirling motions near the solar equator. Rotation in the north is always antisymmetric to rotation in the southern hemisphere. These mysterious waves move in the opposite direction of the Sun’s rotation, which is to the right, three times faster than predicted by hydrodynamics. Image: NYU Abu Dhabi

High frequency retrograde waves (HFR), which move in the opposite direction of our star’s rotation, appear as a pattern of vortices (spinning motions) on the solar surface and move at three times the speed established by current theory.

The interior of the Sun and stars cannot be imaged by conventional astronomy (optics, X-rays, etc.), so scientists rely on interpreting the surface signatures of a variety of waves to image the interior. These new HFR waves could still be an important piece of the puzzle in our understanding of the stars.

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Complex interactions between other well-known waves and magnetism, gravity or convection can drive HFR waves to this speed. “If HFR waves could be attributed to any of these three processes, the discovery would have answered some of the unresolved questions we still have about our star,” Hanson said. “However, these new waves don’t seem to be the result of these processes, and that’s exciting because it leads to a whole new set of questions.”

By studying the Sun’s interior dynamics using waves, scientists can better assess the Sun’s potential impact on Earth and other planets in our solar system. “The very existence of HFR modes and their origin is a real mystery and could allude to the exciting physics at play,” said Shravan Hanasoge, co-author of the paper. “It has the potential to cast insight into the otherwise unobservable interior of our star.”

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