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Researchers at the Technische Universität Wien in Austria have found that solar wind can do far more than project lights in the Earth's night sky.
The work, published in the journal Icarus, found that while we on Earth are treated to displays such as the Northern Lights, bodies that lack the Earth's protective magnetic field, such as the Moon or Mercury, have a considerably tougher time of it.
Professor - Friedrich - Aumayr - Institute - Applied
Professor Friedrich Aumayr, from the Institute of Applied Physics at TU Wien, explained:
"The solar wind consists of charged particles – mainly hydrogen and helium ions, but heavier atoms up to iron also play a role." On Mercury or the Moon, these particles can strike the surface at between 400 and 800km per second, gradually eroding rock and flinging up numerous other atoms. These settle above the planet, creating a very thin atmospheric layer.
Layer - Exosphere - Scientists - Composition - Surface
This layer (known as an exosphere) is hugely interesting to planetary scientists because it allows them to ascertain the composition of the surface without having to land a probe.
However, using the exosphere in this way needs a precise understanding of the effects of solar wind. Until now, the assumption had been that it was the kinetic energy of particles...
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