Parker Solar Probe: The Origins of Switchbacks

  • Released Tuesday, December 14th, 2021
  • Updated Wednesday, November 15th, 2023 at 12:17AM
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Most of the magnetic field measured at Parker during this time is directed sunward (blue field lines and vectors). A switchback occurs when the field changes direction almost 180 degrees for a short period of time. FIELDS instrument magnetic vector data are projected from the spacecraft position as arrows. The arrows are colored deep blue for sunward vectors, deep red for anti-sunward, and in between for directions off from this line. The heliospheric magnetic field lines are represented as gold.

For a number of years, solar scientists have known about a phenomenon they called 'switchbacks'. Switchbacks are short-term 'flips' in the polarity of the magnetic field in the outflowing solar wind. Parker Solar Probe has detected these 'switchbacks' (Switchbacks Science: Explaining Parker Solar Probe’s Magnetic Puzzle), which appear to be more plentiful closer to the Sun.

In the visualization above, Parker is passing through a region of inward bound magnetic flux (blue lines). This surrounding field is computed from a running average of the measurements by Parker, which are computing from the individual measurements at Parker's position (arrows projecting from the spacecraft position). For a brief time, these vectors flip direction, in this particular case changing color from blue to white and red, from the surrounding field, which is the signature of a switchback.

Closer to the Sun, the average field lines trace back to coronal structures called pseudostreamers, that are magnetic structures which overlay and connect multiple pole magnetic regions. These regions also appear to correlate with where magnetic flux emerges between supergranule convection cells.

Most of the magnetic field measured at Parker during this time is directed sunward (blue field lines and vectors). A switchback occurs when the field changes direction almost 180 degrees for a short period of time. FIELDS instrument magnetic vector data are projected from the spacecraft position as arrows. The arrows are colored deep blue for sunward vectors, deep red for anti-sunward, and in between for directions off from this line. The heliospheric magnetic field lines are represented as gold.

A top-down view from the ecliptic pole of the orbit of Parker Solar Probe for Encounter 6. FIELDS instrument magnetic vector data are projected from the spacecraft position with arrows. The arrows are colored deep blue for sunward vectors, deep red for anti-sunward, and in between for directions off from this line. The heliospheric magnetic field lines are the gold lines, representing the propagation of the average field measured at Parker, propagated back to the solar photosphere.

View of FIELDS instrument magnetic data measured at Parker Solar Probe during encounter 6. FIELDS instrument magnetic vector data are projected from the spacecraft position as arrows. The arrows are colored deep blue for sunward vectors, deep red for anti-sunward, and in between for directions off from this line. The heliospheric magnetic field lines are the gold lines, representing the propagation of the average field measured at Parker, propagated back to the solar photosphere.



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