Demystifying The Solar Wind

Rushing toward Earth at two million m.p.h., the phenomenon called solar wind has been known to disable satellites and knock out electric power grids.

Now scientists for the first time have discovered the source of high-speed solar winds, reports CBS News Correspondent John Blackstone. They originate along the edges of honeycomb-shaped magnetic fields on the sun's surface.

Researcher Don Hassler is one of the scientists who made the discovery.

"We are modern day explorers and [the] search for the solar wind is a little bit like the search for the source of the Nile," says Hassler, who works at the Southwest Research Institute.

The solar wind is a stream of electrified gas that never actually reaches the Earth's surface, but it can cause dramatic changes in the Earth's magnetic field. In turn, that can lead to plenty of trouble where we live.

"It affects our communications, it affects our satellites, it affects our power grid," Hassler says.

A few years ago, solar wind was of little interest to anyone but space scientists. Now however, as we become more and more dependent on advanced technology, we become more susceptible to the effects of solar wind. The ability to forecast the weather in space is increasingly important.

NASA's SOHO satellite, now focused on the sun, is giving scientists a view they've never had before.

"It's so exciting because you know it's a star, it's an incredibly complex yet important system, and it's the source of all life here on Earth," Hassler says.

Though we depend on it every day, only now are we uncovering some of its mysteries.

Reported By John Blackstone
  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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