What is solar wind? Solar wind is a whirlpool of particles from the sun. It is composed primarily of protons, electrons, and the nuclei of heavier elements. The high temperatures of the solar corona accelerate the solar particles to incredible speeds. In fact, the solar wind has such powerful speeds that it escapes the gravitational field of the Sun entirely. The solar wind is responsible for the tail of comets and the Earth’s magnetosphere.
Generally, solar wind travels in all directions from the Sun. It travels at various speeds, depending on the particle’s origin. On average, solar wind speeds are around 300–400 kilometers per second. However, solar wind speeds can be as high as 800 km per second. The speed of solar wind varies depending on the sun’s activity cycle. In the past, scientists have proposed that asteroids brought water to Earth. But these new findings show that the water that is brought to the Earth is actually solar wind.
As solar wind projects outward from the Sun, it is thin and can no longer resist the inward push of the instellar space medium, the space between stars. During this transition, solar wind passes through a “termination shock” and becomes subsonic. This region is known as the heliosheath, and it extends as far as the heliopause. Scientists have been able to detect the predicted flux of hydrogen atoms from the solar wind, which may be a useful early warning system for solar storms.
The main ingredients of solar wind are hydrogen and protons, but there are also elements of the lighter ions. These particles are called alpha particles. However, they do contain small amounts of oxygen, silicon, and beryllium. Almost all elements are present, including oxygen. Some of these elements are also present in the solar wind, such as magnesium and potassium. A small portion of them are a mixture of gases, but the bulk of it is hydrogen.
When the solar wind interacts with Earth, it can cause numerous phenemena. For example, it can produce aurorae, a light show created when particles in the solar wind collide with the upper atmosphere of Earth’s atmosphere and emit certain wavelengths of light. This effect is also seen around Jupiter’s magnetic poles. A small portion of solar wind particles can affect our planet’s auroras. You can even see the aurora in our own backyard!
Solar wind is a continuous outflow of particles from the corona of the sun. These particles are mostly protons and electrons, which are energized by the high temperatures of the corona. They leave the sun at high speeds — anywhere from 200 miles per second to as much as 800 kilometers per second. Some of the fastest particles stream out of the sun through a hole in the middle of the corona, where they are accelerated to incredible speeds. The particles are pinwheel shaped, and contain magnetic fields.