One of the more bizarre things about the sun is that the energy from its solar wind flows out in a spiral pattern instead of a circular form as with most stars. By following the solar wind around the sun for a while in the solar atmosphere and measuring the energy it leaves, scientists have deduced that it’s mainly composed mostly of ionized hydrogen (H+) and helium (H2O).
The sun’s magnetic field protects it from solar wind, so the total amount of energy from the solar wind can be expected to be much lower compared to the energy that could have come from the star itself (see the story on solar wind ). Since the sun has a diameter of about 10,000 km, and its atmosphere is about 100 km thick, it needs about 500 to 1,000 years to produce 500 Watts of thermal energy from its atmosphere.
The solar wind consists of a jet of ions travelling at high velocities, travelling through a plasma of plasma (see animation), and entering the geomagnetic field through the active core of the sun. Some of the ionized helium is carried along in the jet.
Some of the solar wind is ionized gas , with a maximum energy density of about 1.0 MeV per atom (the energy density of a proton). A few of the plasma atoms have temperatures in the 1 to 10 keV range, but the vast majority have temperatures in the 3 to 10 keV range: 10 to 100 times lower than the plasma atoms (see this report from the European Space Agency).
These plasma flows are not confined within the geomagnetic field, they are carried on the plasma channels of the solar wind. These plasma channels are located at the poles in the solar corona, near the Sun’s core, and are about 40 000 to 1,000 000 km across (see animation above). These channels are the only pathway that can carry ions with enough energy density to provide the solar wind, and in some places the energy generated from this path can be measured to a billionth of a Joule (1000 trillion trillion electron volts).
How hot is the thermonuclear fusion reaction which powers the sun?
The nuclear fusion reaction in the core of the sun is believed to be 100 trillion trillion trillion times hotter than the sun’s surface temperature, and this means it requires less energy than the lightest nuclear fusion reaction (a fusion reaction that has only one proton as a proton and one electron as a neutron – ie. the one in
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