The Solar Wind: Seeing with Eyes Shut

Screen Shot 2017-03-27 at 4.10.29 PM
Computer generated image of the constant flow of solar wind streaming outward from the sun added to an actual image of the sun’s chromosphere from SOHO. Credits: ESA&NASA/SOHO

When thinking about outer space at a much more basic level, I remember being taught to think of the word “vacuum.” And as the narrator says in the video I watched, the space between planets is far from empty. A unique aspect of the sun’s weather known as the solar wind fills up some of the space between the planets, and has extremely interesting physical elements and attributes. NASA’s website explains some elements of the solar wind including its unbelievably fast speeds but relative weakness compared to the winds produced within our atmosphere. That, to my relatively inexperienced understandings of strength and power in the universe, is surprising to me, as I probably would have guessed that anything emitted from the sun would be stronger than any counterpart emitted by the earth. Most interesting (and perhaps alarming) about the solar wind, though, is the comments made in the video regarding the ability to see the solar wind only with one’s eyes shut. Astronauts interacting with the solar wind cannot see it when they have their eyes open, but when they shut their eyes, the energetic particles interact with the fluid in their eyes and produce little sparks of light every few minutes, which can only be seen when one is awake with their eyes closed. This is just one small enumeration of the wonders of space, and the phenomenal universe which can create something which can be seen with eyes shut.

 

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2 thoughts on “The Solar Wind: Seeing with Eyes Shut

  1. When I normally think of wind, even solar wind, I don’t think of it as something you can really see. And normally when I think of “seeing” something, I think of seeing with our eyes open. The fact that astronauts can actually see solar wind is pretty cool in and of itself, but only being able to see solar wind with their eyes closed is bizarre and amazing. It’s also a bit strange sounding – the particles are going through their head and interacting with their eyes. A very odd but interesting phenemenon – very nice blog post!

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  2. Hi Brynna,
    I find it fascinating how every time astronomers look up at the sky in new ways, they discover something about the universe they never knew existed. From increased telescope resolution to radio astronomy and infrared light, even, as I just learned, closing your eyes to view solar wind! There is so much about the universe that we still do not understand and it makes me think how frustrating it must be to be an astronomer. Do you know why solar wind is weaker than Earth’s wind? I learned from my terrestrial atmosphere article that Earth’s winds blow up to 10-20% its rotation speed, so I would be interested to know why the Sun’s wind is so much less powerful.

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