Using data collected by NASA’s Wind solar probe, scientists have identified an energy source that causes solar winds to heat up and accelerate as they travel further away from their source. The discovery pinpoints ion cyclotron waves as the source of this strange phenomenon, which could revolutionize the nuclear energy industry
Compared to winds on Earth, which carry gasses at the same speed and temperature, solar winds behave in a way which is counterintuitive. Instead of decelerating and loosing energy with distance, solar winds gain speed and temperature as they flows away from their source. These strange properties could lead to groundbreaking advances in nuclear power, according to researchers at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.
The team, led by Dr. Justin Kasper, processed a 19-year record of solar wind temperatures collected by the Wind solar probe, NASA’s oldest active spacecraft. The findings confirmed existing theories that ion cyclotron waves affect the temperature and speed of solar winds as they emanate from the sun. Heavy ions interact with ion cyclotron waves and gain energy and heat with distance.
In the case of nuclear fusion reactors on Earth, heavy ions can get into the plasma where the fusion takes place, cool it and eventually stop the fusion reaction. Ion cyclotron waves might reverse that process, according to Kasper and his team.