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Friday, May 29, 1998 Published at 13:54 GMT 14:54 UK


New discoveries on the sun's surface

The sun's turbulent surface

Astronomers have detected huge regions of the sun's surface that are rising and falling. These convection cells play an important role in how the sun rotates. Our science correspondent David Whitehouse explains.

When astronomers look closely at the sun's 6,000 degree Celcius surface they can see that it is bubbling. Earth-sized regions of the suns surface are rising and falling as gas floats to the surface, cools and descends to be reheated.

However for 30 years astronomers have scrutinised the sun's surface with sensitive detectors looking for much larger convective cells that they believe should be there.

[ image: Cells on the sun - Jupiter shown to scale]
Cells on the sun - Jupiter shown to scale
A team from NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center said: "It is like finding the high and low pressure weather systems that govern the weather on earth."

While these giant regions will tell scientists more about what happens on the sun's turbulent surface they may also have practical implications back on earth.

"I'm convinced that it should enhance our ability to predict space weather," said Dr David Hathaway. "This is because the giant cells influence the position of sunspots."

It is sunspots that throw into space streams of particles that can strike the earth.

The giant convection cells could also explain another solar mystery: why it rotates faster at the equator than at the poles.

"These new observations open a new avenue for understanding the sun," Dr Hathaway said.

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