Fluid dynamics appear at all kinds of scales. The animation above shows two comets, Encke and ISON, on their recent approach toward the sun. The darker wisps emanating from the right side of the image are part of the solar wind, a plasma stream continuously emitted by the sun's upper atmosphere. Although the solar wind is very rarefied by terrestrial standards, its density is sufficient to whip the comets’ tails of gas and dust from side-to-side. Scientists use images like these to learn more about the structure of the solar wind based on its interaction with the comets. For more great images of ISON’s journey around the sun, check out NASA Goddard. (Image credit: K. Battams/NASA/STEREO/CIOC; submitted by John C)
Finally, our lead image was created with the appFrax, which allows users to make their own fractal-based art. Fluid dynamics has a lot of fractal behaviors. iOS users who want toplay with fractalsshould check it out.
New photographs showing ultra-fine structure in the sun's chromosphere and photosphere have been released. They offer a fascinating view into the magnetohydrodynamics of the sun, where the fluid behaviors of plasma are constantly modified by the sun’s magnetic field. The left image shows fine-scale magnetic loops rooted in the photosphere, while the right image shows our clearest photo yet of a sunspot. The dark central portion is the umbra, where magnetic field lines are almost vertical; it’s surrounded by the penumbra, where field lines are more inclined. Further out, we see the regular convective cell structure of the sun. (Photo credit: Big Bear Solar Observatory/NJIT; via io9 and cnet)
Jets of high-energy plasma and sub-atomic particles explode outward from the Hercules A elliptical galaxy at the center of this photo. The jets are driven to speeds close to that of light due to the gravitation of the supermassive black hole at the center of the elliptical galaxy. Relativistic effects mask the innermost portions of the jets from our view, but, as the jets slow, they become unstable, billowing out into rings and wisps whose turbulent shapes suggest multiple outbursts originating from Hercules A. (Photo credit:NASA, ESA, S. Baum and C. O’Dea (RIT), R. Perley and W. Cotton (NRAO/AUI/NSF), and the Hubble HeritageTeam (STScI/AURA); via Discovery)
Two dark areas of plasma, cooler than the surrounding fluid, dance and intertwine above the sun’s surface. Plasma, a rarefied gas made up of ions, is an electrically conductive fluid, shaped here by the magnetic field of the sun. Note how the strands pass material back and forth along the magnetic field lines. This timelapse video, captured by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, takes place over the course of a day and is captured in the extreme ultraviolet range.
NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory captured this video of swirls of darker, cooler plasma caught between competing magnetic forces over the course of 30 hours. The plasma strands rotate like tornadoes caught on magnetic field lines. It sometimes feels incredible to observe such familiar-looking fluid behavior in such unfamiliar places, but it’s just a reminder that physics works no matter where you are.
An M-class solar flare with a towering prominence erupted from the Sun over the course of three hours in late September. Notice how the plasma does not fall straight back to the surface but flows back down following the Sun’s magnetic field lines. As an rarefied ionized gas, plasma follows coupled laws of electromagnetism and fluid dynamics. #
The solar wind, a rarefied stream of hot plasma ejected from the sun, constantly bombards Earth’s magnetic field. This results in the formation of the magnetosphere, which deflects most of these charged particles away from the earth. Some of them, however, are drawn toward the magnetic poles; when these charged particles strike the upper atmosphere, they cause the gases there to release photons, resulting in the lights we know as auroras. This animation shows the International Space Station flying through the aurora australis—the southern lights. The fluid-like motion of the aurora is no accident; though diffuse, the solar wind is still a fluid governed by magnetohydrodynamics.
In early June, NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory recorded a stunning coronal mass ejection, in which larger than usual quantities of cool (relatively speaking) plasma erupted from the surface of the sun and rained back down along magnetic field lines. Plasma is an ionized gas-like state of matter subject to the same laws that govern more familiar fluids like water or air, with the additional caveat that, being electrically conductive, plasmas also obey Maxwell’s equations. #