Scientists discover new solar waves that move three times faster than they thought possible
By Kevin Hughes // Mar 31, 2022

A new study published on March 24 in Nature Astronomy has found a new set of waves on the Sun's surface that don't fit current theories.


Known as "high-frequency retrograde (HFR) waves," the newly-detected waves travel in the opposite direction of the Sun's rotation and emerge as a pattern of vortices on the Sun's surface, moving three times faster than scientists thought was possible. (Related: Model for plasma flow on the Sun reveals secrets behind sunspots and other solar phenomena)

Since the interior of the Sun and stars can't be imaged by traditional means, scientists depend on interpreting the surface signatures of an array of waves to produce an image of what happens below the surface. These new HFR waves may yet be a significant piece of the puzzle in our knowledge of the stars.

Chris Hanson, the lead author of the research, said the new waves don't appear to be a result of other commonly known waves and magnetism, gravity or convection.

"If the high-frequency retrograde waves could be attributed to any of these three processes, then the finding would have answered some open questions we still have about the Sun. However, these new waves don't appear to be a result of these processes, and that's exciting because it leads to a whole new set of questions," said Hanson, a solar physicist at New York University (NYU) Abu Dhabi's Center for Space Science.

Researchers studied space- and ground-based data to discover HFR waves

The researchers studied 25 years of space- and ground-based data to discover the HFR waves.

"The very existence of HFR modes and their origin is a true mystery and may allude to exciting physics at play. It has the potential to shed insight on the otherwise unobservable interior of the Sun," said Shravan Hanasoge, the paper's co-author and astrophysicist at NYU Abu Dhabi's Center for Space Science.

The study was directed by researchers from NYU Abu Dhabi's Center for Space Science in cooperation with the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research and NYU.

Scientists originally thought that acoustic solar waves form near the Sun's surface, thanks to the Coriolis effect wherein points on a rotating sphere's equator seem to move quicker than points on its poles. The Coriolis effect is an apparent effect created by a rotating frame of reference. It happens when an object moving along a straight way is seen from a non-fixed frame of reference.

Addressing the shortcomings in their knowledge might help the researchers gain a better understanding of the Sun's interior in addition to getting a better sense of how the Sun affects Earth and other planets in the solar system. It could also provide insight into the same kind of high-frequency wave known as the Rossby waves, which had been seen crossing Earth's oceans four times faster than current models can explain.

Astronomers examine acoustic waves like these for the reason that we are still a long way from building technology capable of peeking deep into the Sun's interior.

NASA, ESA launch solar probes

In 2018, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) launched the Parker Solar Probe, which was named after the late solar physicist Eugene Parker from Florida's space coast. During the course of its seven-year mission, the Parker Solar Probe will move closer to the Sun than any other spacecraft in history. It has already broken speed records in just four years, traveling at a maximum speed of 430,000 mph. It has also done a series of astonishing discoveries about solar winds, high-energy particles and much more.

In February 2020, the European Space Agency (ESA) launched the Solar Orbiter probe, which the agency created to study space weather; the heliosphere or the protective plasma bubble that encloses our solar system; and the Sun's poles, a mysterious area that has never been fully studied.

Exactly six months after it was launched, the Solar Orbiter was able to take a closer photo of the Sun. The particular image showed the presence of small solar flares named campfires, which could help explain why the Sun's corona – the outermost layer of the Sun's atmosphere – is hotter than its surface.

The discoveries these probes make could aid researchers in better foreseeing catastrophic space weather and comprehending how the Sun's cycles affect physical procedures here on Earth.

Follow to learn more about the Sun.

Watch the video below to know more about massive solar flares and Sun anomalies.

This video is from the Space Anomalies channel on

More related stories:

Discovery: The sun's magnetic waves react to sound.

Solar telescope offers unprecedented glimpse into the Sun.

Sun erupting non-stop this month, giant explosions seen from its far side.

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