Washington: A tracer has been found in the sun`s atmosphere to help track the flow of material coursing underneath the sun`s surface.
New research that uses data from NASA`s Solar Dynamics Observatory, or SDO, to track bright points in the solar atmosphere and magnetic signatures on the sun`s surface offers a way to probe the star`s depths faster than ever before.
The technique opens the door for near real-time mapping of the sun`s roiling interior - movement that affects a wide range of events on the sun from its 22-year sunspot cycle to its frequent bursts of X-ray light called solar flares.
"There are all sorts of things lurking below the surface," Scott McIntosh, first author of the research said.
"And we`ve found a marker for this deep rooted activity. This is kind of a gateway to the interior, and we don`t need months of data to get there," he said.
One of the most common ways to probe the sun`s interior is through a technique called helioseismology in which scientists track the time it takes for waves - not unlike seismic waves on Earth -- to travel from one side of the sun to the other.
From helioseismology solar scientists have some sense of what`s happening inside the sun, which they believe to be made up of granules and super-granules of moving solar material. The material is constantly overturning like boiling water in a pot, but on a much grander scale: A granule is approximately the distance from Los Angeles to New York City; a super-granule is about twice the diameter of Earth.
Instead of tracking seismic waves, the new research probes the solar interior using the Helioseismic Magnetic Imager on NASA`s Solar Dynamics Observatory, or SDO, which can map the dynamic magnetic fields that thread through and around the sun.
The research is published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.