You are here


June 9, 2013

Earthquakes start deep below the surface, when two blocks of the crust suddenly slip, releasing enormous amounts of energy. The motion creates seismic waves that ripple throughout our planet.

There are quakes on the Sun as well. But they originate above the surface, in giant outbursts of magnetic energy.

As the Sun rotates, it produces a strong magnetic field. Over time, the lines of magnetic force become tangled and twisted. Those lines occasionally snap, creating explosions of energy or geysers of charged particles.

These outbursts originate above the Sun’s visible surface, and they direct most of their energy outward. But some of it is directed back toward the Sun. That heats particles in the Sun’s lower atmosphere, creating a pressure wave that penetrates deep into the Sun. The wave then reflects back to the surface, causing a “sunquake.” Hot gas ripples outward from the site of the quake, and seismic waves travel deep into the Sun.

As you might expect, sunquakes are massive events — they can be thousands of times more powerful than the deadly quake that struck Japan a couple of years ago.

And like earthquakes, they can reveal what’s going on below the surface. The sound waves reverberate throughout the Sun and reflect back to the surface, causing it to jiggle. Astronomers can measure these jiggles and use them to probe conditions below the surface — thanks to the power of sunquakes.


Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2013

Get Premium Audio

Listen to today's episode of StarDate on the web the same day it airs in high-quality streaming audio without any extra ads or announcements. Choose a $8 one-month pass, or listen every day for a year for just $30.