What are the Causes and Effects of Interactions Between the Solar Wind and Planetary Bodies?

Essay by vickeeCollege, UndergraduateA+, February 2004

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The Solar Wind

Since our sun formed, around 4.6 billion years ago it has been the ultimate source of energy and light on Earth. Made of 73% hydrogen, 25% helium and around 50 other trace elements and radiating 4 x 1026 watts of energy every second , it has not only emitted electromagnetic radiation through the nuclear fusion of atoms in its core but also produces huge amounts of ionised gas due to the high temperatures. This gas is known as the solar wind and one million tonnes is emitted each second. It is comprised of a hot plasma of free electrons and positive ions, atoms which have lost their electrons in the violent collisions at 1,000,000°K. Being a plasma, it can conduct electric currents and its particles, with the entrained solar magnetic field, can be steered by other magnetic fields. It is ejected continuously from the suns corona, but sometimes more violent solar activity occurs, solar flares and prominences, and sends out large amounts at one time.

The picture below shows mass coronal ejections from the sun.

The time it takes to reach Earth has been recorded at roughly 4 days, by seeing how long it takes mass ejection of particles viewed on one day to reach the Earth and produce an aurora. From this, the speed at which the particles travel can be calculated.

Average time taken for particles to reach Earth = 4 days

4 days converted to seconds = 4 x 24 x 60 x 60 = 345600 seconds

Average distance of Earth from sun = 149.6 x 106km

Speed = Distance =149.6 x 106km = 432.9kms-1


The magnetic field lines created by the sun are wound into a spiral as the sun rotates, meaning that at Earth the angle at which the field hits...