ESA’s Solar Orbiter has solved the mystery of a magnetic phenomenon in the solar wind. It has taken the first ever image of a ‘switchback’ in the solar corona, confirming its predicted ‘S’ shape. A switchback is defined by rapid flips in magnetic field direction. The observed switchback is linked to an active region associated with sunspots and magnetic activity where there is an interaction between open and closed magnetic field lines. The interaction releases energy and sends the S-shaped disturbance into space. The new data suggest that switchbacks could originate near the solar surface, and may be important in understanding the acceleration and heating of the solar wind.

Solar Orbiter is a mission of international collaboration between ESA and NASA.

Read more

Credits: ESA; see onscreen for individual image credits.