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The sun flings out solar wind particles in much the same manner as a garden sprinkler throws out water droplets.
The artist's drawing of the solar wind flow was provided courtesy of NASA.

The Spiral of the IMF

The solar wind is formed as the Sun's topmost layer blows off into space carrying with it magnetic fields still attached to the Sun. Gusts and disturbances form in the solar wind associated with violent events on the Sun.

Because the Sun spins but particles leave the surface headed directly into space, particles appear to flow into space as if they are spiraling out from the Sun, as shown in this figure. The figure shows what is referred to as the "spiral angle" of the IMF (interplanetary magnetic field).

For a planet to be affected by a blob of material being ejected by the Sun, the planet must be in the path of the blob, as dictated by where the planet is relative to the spiral path of the material.

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The force of magnetism causes material to point along the direction the magnetic force points. This property implies that the force of magnetism has a direction. As shown in the diagram to the left, the...more

Spiral Path of Material

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AU

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The Spiral of the IMF

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Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part is sponsored in part through grants from federal agencies (NASA and NOAA), and partnerships with affiliated organizations, including the American Geophysical Union, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Earth System Information Partnership, the American Meteorological Society, the National Center for Science Education, and TERC. The American Geophysical Union and the American Geosciences Institute are Windows to the Universe Founding Partners. NESTA welcomes new Institutional Affiliates in support of our ongoing programs, as well as collaborations on new projects. Contact NESTA for more information. NASA ESIP NCSE HHMI AGU AGI AMS NOAA