Scientists Find Unexplained Waves Inside the Sun That Defy Known Physics

The undetermined nature of the newly discovered waves promises "novel physics" about the Sun and stars, reports a new study.

Scientists Find Unexplained Waves Inside the Sun That Defy Known Physics
An artistic impression of the high-frequency retrograde (HFR) vorticity waves. Image: NYU Abu Dhabi

Scientists have discovered a class of never-before-seen waves inside the Sun that move in the opposite direction of its rotation and travel so fast that they defy explanation. The “as-yet undetermined nature of these waves promises novel physics and fresh insight into solar dynamics,” reports a new study.

The waves were serendipitously spotted by Chris Hanson, a research associate at New York University Abu Dhabi, and his colleagues, as the researchers scoured through decades of solar observations. The team was trying to answer a completely different question about the Sun when they noticed swirling patterns on its surface caused by these “high-frequency retrograde (HFR) waves,” according to a study published on Thursday in Nature Astronomy.

“We weren’t intentionally looking for these waves,” said Hanson, who led the study, in an email. “One of the biggest mysteries of the Sun is the ‘convective conundrum’; where theory suggests, but observations cannot find, the existence of large convective cells,” which are also known as “giant cells.”

“We were therefore looking in the data for signatures of these cells and that’s when we discovered the HFR waves,” he continued. “Initially we thought they actually were ‘giant cells,’ but ruled these out subsequently (as stated in the paper).”

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