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Ulysses' observations of solar wind speed during solar minimum. Slow wind (≈400 km/s) is at the equatorial regions, while fast wind (≈750 km/s) is seen over the poles.[1] Red/blue colours show inward/outward polarities of the heliospheric magnetic field

The solar wind is wind from the sun. It is a stream of charged protons, electrons and plasma shot out of the Sun. The wind is shot out at hypersonic speed, so fast that it can travel the whole length of the Solar System, nearly 1 light year and create the heliosphere. The particles are dangerous to astronauts and spacecraft. The Earth's magnetic field absorbs or soaks up a lot of the solar wind causing the aurora, the Northern lights and Southern lights.

At a distance of more than a few solar radii from the Sun, the solar wind reaches speeds of 250 to 750 kilometers per second and is supersonic.[2]

A disturbance in the solar wind is called a solar storm. Sometimes it causes a geomagnetic storm. Such a storm in 1989 brought down the Quebec electric power grid and put the entire province in darkness. The largest recorded geomagnetic storm was in September 1–2, 1859. If we were to have another as strong as that one it might cause up to 2 trillion dollars damage.

Solar wind also causes the tail of a comet. When the comet is close enough to the sun that the heat evaporates some of the comet's ice, the motion of the solar wind causes the resulting water vapor and space dust to stream away from the comet. Because it is blown by the solar wind, the comet's tail does not trail behind it, but always points directly away from the sun.

ReferencesEdit

  1. McComas, D. J.; Elliott, H. A.; Schwadron, N. A.; Gosling, J. T.; Skoug, R. M.; Goldstein, B. E. (2003-05-15). "The three-dimensional solar wind around solar maximum" (in en). Geophysical Research Letters 30 (10): 1517. doi:10.1029/2003GL017136. ISSN 1944-8007. 
  2. McGeaw-Hill encyclopedia of science & technology, 8th ed. 1997. vol. 16, page 685.