Flaring stars had been puzzling astronomers for a while, as they are that type of cosmic objects capable of undergoing unpredictable increases in brightness for several minutes. On the other hand, the Voyager probes created by the human hand had travelled farther away in the Cosmos than many scientists could dare to hope.
A new type of “electron burst” was discovered by the Voyager mission. The scientists involved are confident that the discovery will grant insights into how flaring stars work.
Shock waves accelerate particles
The electron bursts emerge when shock waves generated by solar eruptions are pushing cosmic ray electrons. The electrons will then accelerate cosmic magnetic field lines at very high speed.
Don Gurnett, who is professor emeritus in physics and astronomy at the University of Iowa, stated the following:
The idea that shock waves accelerate particles is not new,
[But] we detected it in a new realm: the interstellar medium, which is much different than in the solar wind, where similar processes have been observed.
Electron bursts begin to exist after coronal mass ejections occur. Huge amounts of superhot plasma are blasted by solar eruptions, creating shock waves and moving outward through the Solar System.
Another official statement of the study says:
Physicists believe these electrons in the interstellar medium are reflected off of a strengthened magnetic field at the edge of the shock wave, and subsequently accelerated by the motion of the shock wave.
Both Voyager 1 and the Voyager 2 probes are located at incredible distances from our planet. Voyager 1 is at 14.1 billion miles away, while Voyager 2 is located at 11.7 billion miles from the Sun. The distance between Earth and the Sun is roughly 93 million miles.
Scientists hope to better understand in the future how shock waves and cosmic radiation are created by flaring stars. Solar outbursts can create radiation that is dangerous for astronauts on spacecraft such as the International Space Station.
The new study was published in The Astronomical Journal.