The wind speed of a devastating Category 5 hurricane can top over 150 miles per hour (241km/hour.) Now imagine another kind of wind with an average speed of 0.87 million miles per hour (1.4 million km/hour.) Welcome to the wind that begins in our Sun and doesn’t stop until after it reaches the edge of the heliosphere: the solar wind.

 

The corona is the Sun’s inner atmosphere – the brightness that can be seen surrounding an eclipsed Sun – and home to the continually expanding solar wind. Right now, the Parker Solar Probe – a NASA mission launched in 2018, is orbiting the Sun and will get as close as 3.83 million miles (6.16 million km) of the Sun’s surface. Parker is gathering new data about the solar particles and magnetic fields that comprise the solar wind. More specifically, two of its main goals are to examine the energy that heats the corona and speeds up the solar wind, and determine the structure of the wind’s magnetic fields.

While many theories describe the solar wind’s history, this is what we do know: The solar wind impacting Earth’s magnetosphere is responsible for triggering those majestic auroras typically seen at locations close to our north and south poles. In some cases it can also set off space weather storms that disrupt everything from our satellites in space, to ship communications on our oceans, to power grids on land.

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