A study of jets travelling through the Sun’s corona at speeds between 200-500 kilometres per second has shown that the fast-moving columns of plasma are deflected much more strongly by the Sun’s magnetic field in the northern hemisphere than in the southern hemisphere. A north-south  asymmetry would have profound implications on our understanding of the solar dynamo that generates the Sun’s magnetic field. The results will be presented by Dr Giuseppe Nisticò at the National Astronomy Meeting in Llandudno on Wednesday 8th July.

Nisticò and an international team of researchers have studied 79 polar jets occurring between March 2007 and April 2008 that were observed with the Solar TErrestrial RElations Observatory (STEREO). STEREO consists of twin spacecraft that are drifting away from Earth along its orbital path around the Sun in opposite directions. STEREO’s duplicate set of instruments carried by the two spacecraft allows stereoscopic observations of the Sun. Nisticò and his colleagues used images from the Extreme Ultra-Violet Imager (EUVI) and CORoronagraphs (COR) instruments to look for jets observed simultaneously by both STEREO spacecraft. For each jet identified, they measured the angle between jet and the north-south axis of the Sun, both at the surface and at a distance of about 700,000 kilometres.  The time delay between the two measurements amounts to about 10 minutes.

“The STEREO instruments allow us to probe into different layers of the Sun, so we can see the jet’s progress over time. EUVI shows us the jet emerge at the surface of the Sun and COR1 shows its progress through the Sun’s atmosphere, or corona,” explained Nisticò. “As the jets travel from the lower to the higher corona, they are “guided” by the magnetic field lines and follow a curved, rather than a straight path. However, our analysis of jets near the Sun’s poles showed surprisingly that the amount of this deflection is different. We saw significantly larger deflection in the north pole than in the south. So a natural question arises: are these polar jets showing us the signature of a north-south asymmetry  of the solar magnetic field?”

For a smaller number of jets, the team studied the deflections in three dimensions, and found these confirmed the results of the wider two-dimensional study.

“For the first time, despite the difficulty in doing measurements of features in polar regions from spacecraft orbiting on the ecliptic plane, we have been able to use coronal jets as a tracer of the global structure of the solar corona and provide a further independent indication of the existence of the north-south asymmetry. In future, Solar Probe Plus and Solar Orbiter missions will provide new insights on the north-south asymmetry at by studying greater distances from the Sun and through direct observations of the Sun’s poles”.

The international team of researchers is composed of Dr Giuseppe Nisticò and Prof Valery Nakariakov from the University of Warwick Centre for Fusion, Space and Astrophysics (UK), Prof Gaetano Zimbardo from the University of Calabria (Italy), Dr Spiros Patsourakos from the University of Ioannina (Greece), and Dr Volker Bothmer from the University of Goettingen (Germany).  The work has been submitted to the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics.

Images, animation and captions

Video of the coronal jet from EUVI and COR1 images. The jet appears in the COR1 images after a time-lag of approximately 10 minutes (speeded up in the video). Credit: STEREO/NASA/G. Nisticò/ University of Warwick (click for hi-res)


A coronal jet near the Sun’s north pole occurred on 21st Nov 2007 and was observed from STEREO-B with EUVI (right) and COR1 (left). A bright point in the EUVI image shows the plasma jet emerging at the surface of the Sun. The jet appears in the CORI images after a time-lag of approximately 10 minutes The deflection of the jet along magnetic field lines can clearly be seen in the COR1 (left-hand) images. Credit: STEREO/NASA/G. Nisticò/ University of Warwick


The full disc images from EUVI and COR1 show the procedure of measuring angle of the jet with respect to the Sun’s North-South axis. Credit: STEREO/NASA/G. Nisticò/ University of Warwick


The coronal magnetic field model developed through the analysis all 79 jets is overlaid on the images. Red and blues lines mark outward and inward magnetic field lines, respectively. The deflection of the jet (and other coronal structures) along the magnetic field lines can be seen. Credit: STEREO/NASA/G. Nisticò/ University of Warwick

Media contacts

Dr Robert Massey

Royal Astronomical Society

Mob: +44 (0)794 124 8035

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Ms Anita Heward

Royal Astronomical Society

Mob: +44 (0)7756 034 243

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Dr Sam Lindsay

Royal Astronomical Society

Mob: +44 (0)7957 566 861

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Science contacts

Dr Giuseppe Nisticò

Centre for Fusion, Space and Astrophysics

Department of Physics

University of Warwick

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Notes for editors

The Royal Astronomical Society National Astronomy Meeting (NAM 2015) will take place in Venue Cymru, Llandudno, Wales, from 5-9 July. NAM 2015 will be held in conjunction with the annual meetings of the UK Solar Physics (UKSP) and Magnetosphere Ionosphere Solar-Terrestrial physics (MIST) groups. The conference is principally sponsored by the Royal Astronomical Society (RAS) and the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC). Follow the conference on Twitter


The Royal Astronomical Society (RAS), founded in 1820, encourages and promotes the study of astronomy, solar-system science, geophysics and closely related branches of science. The RAS organises scientific meetings, publishes international research and review journals, recognizes outstanding achievements by the award of medals and prizes, maintains an extensive library, supports education through grants and outreach activities and represents UK astronomy nationally and internationally. Its more than 3800 members (Fellows), a third based overseas, include scientific researchers in universities, observatories and laboratories as well as historians of astronomy and others. Follow the RAS on Twitter


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