The solar wind is powerful and is believed to have eroded or stripped away the atmospheres of other planets such as Mercury. Earth's relatively strong magnetic and gravitational fields have preserved its atmosphere from the constant onslaught. Observers near the poles sometimes see beautiful lights in the night sky known as auroras, the result of the solar wind interacting with Earth's magnetic field and atmosphere.
Photo: A coronal mass ejection, which is a type of violent solar plasma eruption that disrupts the solar wind (ESA/NASA)
Charged particles race across the Solar System.
A stream of particles from the Sun stretches beyond the outer planets.
Measurements made by the 1962 Mariner 2 spacecraft confirmed the presence of solar wind, a stream of particles from the Sun that stretches far beyond the outer planets. The Earth's magnetic field fights a constant battle against the solar wind's atmosphere eroding effects.
Sir Patrick Moore's guests discuss Saturn's magnetic field and storms.
Sir Patrick Moore spoke to his guests, Professor John Zarnecki from the Open University and Professor Michele Dougherty from Imperial College, about Saturn's core, magnetic field and storms shortly after the Cassini-Huygens probe reached the ringed planet in 2004.
The solar wind is a stream of charged particles (a plasma) released from the upper atmosphere of the Sun. It mostly consists of electrons and protons with energies usually between 1.5 and 10 keV. The stream of particles varies in density, temperature, and speed over time and over longitude. These particles can escape the Sun's gravity because of their high kinetic energy and the high temperature of the corona.
The solar wind is supersonic relative to the speed of sound within it, and this creates the heliosphere, an enormous bubble-like shockwave in the interstellar medium that surrounds the Solar System. Other related phenomena include geomagnetic storms that can knock out power grids on Earth, the aurora (northern and southern lights), and the plasma tails of comets that always point away from the Sun.
This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.