Sun’s Magnetic Field May Form Close to the Surface, Research Finds

 This image provided by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory shows a solar flare, right, on May 14, 2024, captured in the extreme ultraviolet light portion of the spectrum colorized in red and yellow. (NASA/SDO via AP)
This image provided by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory shows a solar flare, right, on May 14, 2024, captured in the extreme ultraviolet light portion of the spectrum colorized in red and yellow. (NASA/SDO via AP)
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Sun’s Magnetic Field May Form Close to the Surface, Research Finds

 This image provided by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory shows a solar flare, right, on May 14, 2024, captured in the extreme ultraviolet light portion of the spectrum colorized in red and yellow. (NASA/SDO via AP)
This image provided by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory shows a solar flare, right, on May 14, 2024, captured in the extreme ultraviolet light portion of the spectrum colorized in red and yellow. (NASA/SDO via AP)

New research indicates the sun’s magnetic field originates much closer to the surface than previously thought, a finding that could help predict periods of extreme solar storms like the ones that slammed Earth earlier this month.

The magnetic field appears to generate 20,000 miles (32,000 kilometers) beneath the sun’s surface. Previous calculations put the roots of this process more than 130,000 miles (209,000 kilometers) below, an international team reported Wednesday.

The sun’s intense magnetic energy is the source of solar flares and eruptions of plasma known as coronal mass ejections. When directed toward Earth, they can create stunning auroras but also disrupt power and communications.

"We still don’t understand the sun well enough to make accurate predictions" of space weather, lead author Geoffrey Vasil of the University of Edinburgh said in an email.

The latest findings published in the journal Nature "will be an important step toward finally resolving" this mysterious process known as solar dynamo, added co-author Daniel Lecoanet of Northwestern University.

Galileo was among the first astronomers to turn a telescope skyward and study sunspots, back in the early 1600s. Solar flares and coronal mass ejections tend to occur near sunspots, dark patches as big as Earth that are located near the most intense portions of the sun’s shifting magnetic field.

Vasil and his team developed new models of the interaction between the sun’s magnetic field and the flow of plasma, which varies at different latitudes during an 11-year cycle. They fed their calculations into a NASA supercomputer in Northern California — the same one used in the 2015 movie "The Martian" to verify the best flight path to rescue the main character. The results suggested a shallow magnetic field and additional research is needed to confirm this.

The modeling was "highly simplified," University of Wisconsin-Madison's Ellen Zweibel, who was not part of the team, said in an accompanying editorial.

The results are intriguing and "sure to inspire future studies," Zweibel said.

The new knowledge should improve long-term solar forecasts, allowing scientists to better predict the strength of our star's future cycles. The sun is approaching its peak level of activity in the current 11-year cycle, thus the recent flareups.

Strong solar flares and outbursts of billions of tons of plasma earlier this month unleashed severe solar storms that produced auroras in unexpected places. Last week, the sun spewed out the biggest solar flare in almost 20 years, but it steered clear of Earth.

Better understanding of the sun can ensure "we are prepared for when the next storm — potentially much more dangerous — hits Earth," Lecoanet said.



Crews Rescue 30 People Trapped Upside Down High on Amusement Park Ride

Crews rescue dozen of people trapped upside down high on Oregon amusement park ride - The AP
Crews rescue dozen of people trapped upside down high on Oregon amusement park ride - The AP
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Crews Rescue 30 People Trapped Upside Down High on Amusement Park Ride

Crews rescue dozen of people trapped upside down high on Oregon amusement park ride - The AP
Crews rescue dozen of people trapped upside down high on Oregon amusement park ride - The AP

Emergency crews in Oregon rescued around 30 people Friday after they were stuck for about half an hour dangling upside down high on a ride at a century-old amusement park.

Portland Fire and Rescue said on the social platform X that firefighters worked with engineers at Oaks Park to manually lower the ride, but crews had been preparing to conduct a high-angle ropes rescue if necessary. All riders were being evacuated and medically evaluated, and there were no reports of injuries.

One rider with a pre-existing medical condition was taken to a hospital for further evaluation as a precaution, Oaks Amusement Park said in a statement posted on social media. Medics released all other passengers.

The ride, called AtmosFEAR, operates like a pendulum, with the capacity to swing riders completely upside down.

Chris Ryan and his wife, from nearby Gresham, were at the park for his birthday. He told The Associated Press in a Facebook message that they had just been planning to ride AtmosFEAR when they saw it was stuck and heard people saying, “Oh my God, they are upside down.”

They decided to walk away because of "how scary the situation was,” he said. They eventually got on the Ferris wheel and heard a loudspeaker announcement that the park was closed and that people should evacuate.

When the ride stopped, park staff immediately called 911 and emergency responders arrived about 25 minutes later, the park statement said. Park maintenance workers were able to return the ride to its unloading position minutes after first responders arrived.

Portland Fire said about 30 people were on board. The amusement park statement said there were 28 riders.

The ride has been in operation since 2021 and has not had any prior incidents, the park said. It will remain closed until further notice. The park said it would work with the ride's manufacturer and state inspectors to determine the cause of the stoppage.

“We wish to express our deepest appreciation to the first responders and our staff for taking prompt action, leading to a positive outcome today, and to the rest of the park guests who swiftly followed directions to vacate the park to make way for the emergency responders to attend to the situation,” it said.

Oaks Park first opened in 1905. Its website says it offers a “uniquely Portland blend of modern thrills and turn-of-the-century charm on a midway that has delighted generations of Northwesterners.”