I am no astronomer or scientist for sure, but this side of the occasional solar flare; I’ve always presumed our sun to be round. Scientists have recently announced that the shape of our sun is rounder then they previously believed. The scientists also said that the sun is squashed more often than previously believed, making it wider in the middle than at the poles.
Previously, astronomers presumed the shape of the sun changed along with its solar cycle. The thought was that the flow of matter inside the sun, and in its atmosphere, would shift over time due to magnetic activity and in turn change the shape of our star. It sounds strange but researchers have apparently been challenged for the last 50 years to accurately measure the sun’s shape.
NASA scientists using my Solar Dynamics Observatory have measured the solar shape over a two-year period spanning 2010 through 2012. During this period, the sun evolved from a minimum sunspot activity to a maximum sunspot activity during its solar cycle. Researchers on the project discovered that the sun’s slightly flat shape with a wide equator and a shorter distance between the polls is surprisingly stable and almost completely unaffected by the solar cycle.
The implication of this discovery is that the shape of the sun is controlled by fundamental properties of the star rather than by magnetism, which can vary significantly. Despite being slightly flattened, the scientists say that the sun is still rounder than they theorized. Future research on measuring the shape of the sun more accurately will help scientists determine how oscillations deep inside the sun manifest on its surface.
[via CBS News]