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Scientists are building a "Minisonne" on a university campus to study the solar wind



  minisun

The Big Red Plasma Ball at the University of Wisconsin-Madison is used to better understand our Sun.


Jeff Miller / UW-Madison

The approximately 1.4 million kilometer wide sun is a huge plasma ball in the center of our solar system. We studied it for millennia and go back to the old story. Now we even send probes to touch it . One of the most fascinating aspects of the sun is how its magnetic field affects the entire solar system. Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison wanted to understand this process better, and so they went to the insane Hollywood scientist and built their own "Minisonne".

Her Creation, Not Used for Evil and Described In Detail The Nature Physics magazine, July 29, is a mere three meters wide and millions of times smaller than the original, and looks like a human brain with wires and steel is being studied.

You called it the Big Red Ball. The researchers pump in helium gas (which is present in the sun) and convert it into plasma. A magnet in the center of the ball creates a magnetic field, and as soon as the team applies an electrical current to the machine, it mimics exactly how the plasma and the magnetic fields of the real sun normally function.






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"Satellite missions have pretty well documented where the fast wind is coming from," said Ethan Peterson, principal author of the study and PhD student at UW-Madison, in a press release. "We wanted to specifically investigate how the slow solar wind is generated and how it develops on the way to Earth."

They turned their attention to the solar wind, particles that stream from the sun into the solar system. Inside the ball, they could recreate the Parker spiral, the magnetic field that winds from the sun through the entire solar system. Peterson describes the replica of the team as a "large-scale map" of the spiral and confirms how it is generated by the plasma flows of the sun streaming out of the sun and sometimes recharging the solar wind. With probes inside the ball monitoring the work, the team was able to see how they moved and how fast the plasma was spinning.

"These jets are being watched by satellites, but nobody knows what drives them," Peterson said. "In our experiment, we saw very similar burps and found out how they develop."

The experiments of the Big Red Ball are intended to complement existing missions to better understand the sun. NASA's Parker Solar Probe is currently orbiting the Solar System's Great Gas Ball and hoping to find out more about the mystery surrounding its atmosphere and the solar wind. Other researchers also enjoy the sun: One team reported last week on "Terminator" events caused by the sun and causing plasma tsunamis .


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