Department of Climate and Space Sciences and Engineering in the College of Engineering at the University of Michigan

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WIND data leads to discovery of solar wind energy source

Posted: March 18, 2013


Using data from the WIND spacecraft, researchers have found signs of an energy source in solar wind. NASA will be able to test this theory when a new probe is sent into the sun later this decade for a closer look.

The U-M Solar-Heliospheric Research Group (SHRG), which consists of several AOSS faculty members and students, analyzes data from WIND. Retired Research Professor George Gloeckler was the Principal Investigator of the SMS instrument onboard WIND. The SMS consists of: the Solar Wind Ion Spectrometer (SWICS), the High Mass Resolution Spectrometer (MASS) and the Supra-Thermal Ion Composition Spectrometer (STICS). SHRG uses SMS data to study the composition of the solar wind and solar and interplanetary energetic particles.

The spacecraft was launched in November 1994. "After all these years, WIND is still sending us excellent data," says Project Scientist Adam Szabo of NASA Goddard, “and it still has 60 years' worth of fuel left in its tanks.”

Solar wind contains chemical elements such as hydrogen, helium and heavier ions. The elements blow at different speeds, have different temperatures, and their temperatures change with direction.

“As solar wind leaves the sun, it accelerates, tripling in speed as it passes through the corona. Furthermore, something inside the solar wind continues to add heat even as it blows into the cold of space,” Szabo says.

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