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Sun spots send scientists for a loop

by Nicholas Mazur - Campus Talk Editor
Tue, Apr 3rd 2018 09:15 pm

The science gig isn’t always an easy one, and it isn’t always glamorous. Sometimes, it’s a job that you grind at. Some discoveries are ones no one will ever care about, some mysteries are ones that will never be the stuff of science fiction. Yet, that doesn’t mean we can’t have fun with them. In fact, some of the more mundane mysteries of the universe have as much potential to take us across the universe as wormholes or the big bang theory (the cosmological explanation for the beginning of the universe, not the poorly written CBS program).

According to Scientific American, scientists are currently tending to a mystery originating at the center of our solar system. Just as Earth has its cycles, so does the sun. The sun goes through a cycle which takes it from a place of maximum activity to minimum activity and back and forth and so on. While this poses no mystery to scientists, a potential result of it does.

The sun spits out, without obvious cause, gamma rays toward Earth and the rest of space for unknown reasons and at random intervals. Now, the reason that scientists are having trouble discovering the truth behind this phenomenon is that many of the factors connected to the sun, like its magnetic field, cloud the variables which are causing it to emit these gamma rays. However, scientists have been able to theorize the causes of these gamma ray bursts despite the factors clouding the sun’s activity.

If you think the phrase gamma rays sounds nerdy, just wait for … cosmic rays! These bad boys are generated when massive astronomical events occur, like when a star goes supernova or when neutron stars collide with one another. Either way, when these cosmic rays are generated, they travel far and wide; many of them make contact with, you guessed it, the sun. These cosmic rays interacting with the regular activity of the sun and its radiation in its minimum activity phase may be what give us these bursts of gamma rays.

Retired scientist from the University of Arizona Randy Jokipii, Ph.D., says that if this theory is right, then it makes perfect sense as to why this would happen. When the sun is in its minimum activity state, the usual solar winds are not as active, which would usually deflect most any incoming cosmic rays from beyond our own star.

Now, as raptured by all that as I’m sure you are, let’s get a little opinionated. Most of the articles in this section are people with an axe to grind. Not that I’m complaining. After all, who do you think picks out the stories each week? However, it’s nice to, once in a while, express some happiness, some satisfaction. 

This story, upon reading it, just warmed my heart a little. It’s full of everything you want in a story about science. It’s got a mystery, it’s got far off objects in space, it’s got awesome terms like gamma radiation and cosmic rays. Hell, even The Incredible Hulk  and The Fantastic Four couldn't ask for better origins.

Though the theories are not proven as of yet, and figuring it out surely won’t win anyone a Nobel Prize, it’s still a great story. As much as science can be about earth-shattering discoveries, that’s not how it, or anything, moves forward. The tiny, everyday mysteries that get solved are what make up the tapestry of science. The filling in of the cracks here and there.

What really makes this so interesting, is how quickly you can go somewhere in the world of science, especially in this day in age. From Earth, we measured gamma rays traced to the sun, and from there, we theorized that they originated from cosmic rays that originated from events that took place lightyears away. All that distance covered in just a few steps. Not bad for an article’s worth of work, not bad at all.




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