By analyizing the SDO images of swaying spicules, the team has detected Alfvén waves a hundred times more powerful than the 2007 observations, with amplitudes of 20 kilometers per second. This key observation reveals Alfvén waves that are more than capable of injecting sufficient quantities of energy, and driving mass, into the corona from the sun's interior, thus heating the sun's atmosphere and accelerating the solar wind.
From the Sun to Earth
But where do these waves come from?
"They are generated by the stirring and boiling of the photosphere dragging and plucking the magnetic field," McIntosh told me via email. This basically means the motion from the solar interior passes energy though the photosphere, generating the waves that pump energy along magnetic fields, high into the sun's atmosphere.
Although the wave generation process may sound fairly straightforward, how the energy passes from wave to plasma is less well understood. "We don't know how the waves lose their energy to the plasma - there are many theories hypothesized," McIntosh continued. "Up until now the waves have not been observed to be energetic enough in the corona so I guess that wasn't on the radar. I expect to see a flurry of activity in this area, hopefully we'll learn a lot."