Previous research has shown that helium is the second most common element in the universe, with hydrogen being the first. Researchers have been fascinated by the presence of helium in the atmosphere of the Sun for decades, even if it is really difficult to measure.
Information related to the presence of helium on the Sun is essential as it allows scientists to learn and understand more about the formation and release of solar winds, which then accelerate at a fast pace as they travel through the void.
Curious about the amount of helium found in the upper atmosphere of the Sun, NASA researchers decided to send a sounding rocket investigation that would offer more data at a global level, and the results have been quite interesting.
Measurements of the ratios of helium and hydrogen found in solar winds that came towards Earth featured a considerably lower helium value in comparison to what experts expected. Some scientists argued that the missing helium might have remained captive in the corona, or the uppermost layer of the Sun’s atmosphere. The events which take place in the corona could explain the swift acceleration of solar winds.
Known under the name of HERSCHEL (or Helium Resonance Scattering in the Corona and Heliosphere), the rocket took images of the solar corona. It was a joint effort between the Naval Research Lab and two European institutes, one from Italy and one from France.
Information gathered by HERSCHEL proved that helium isn’t distributed in a uniform manner within the corona, as little to no helium can be found in the equatorial region while the highest amounts can be traced to middle latitudes.
The data infers that the balance of helium is tied to the magnetic field and the speed at which solar winds from within the corona and proving that the solar atmosphere is more dynamic.