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The detection of Rossby-like waves on the Sun


Rossby waves are a type of global-scale wave that develops in planetary atmospheres, driven by the planet’s rotation1. They propagate westward owing to the Coriolis force, and their characterization enables more precise forecasting of weather on Earth2,3. Despite the massive reservoir of rotational energy available in the Sun’s interior and decades of observational investigation, their solar analogue defies unambiguous identification46. Here we analyse a combined set of images obtained by the Solar TErrestrial RElations Observatory (STEREO) and the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) spacecraft between 2011 and 2013 in order to follow the evolution of small bright features, called brightpoints, which are tracers of rotationally driven large-scale convection7. We report the detection of persistent, global-scale bands of magnetized activity on the Sun that slowly meander westward in longitude and display Rossby-wave-like behaviour. These magnetized Rossby waves allow us to make direct connections between decadal-scale solar activity and that on much shorter timescales. Monitoring the properties of these waves, and the wavenumber of the disturbances that they generate, has the potential to yield a considerable improvement in forecast capability for solar activity and related space weather phenomena.

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Figure 1: Coronal BP detection at three distinct vantage points in space.
Figure 2: Illustrating the combined coverage of BPs in the solar atmosphere from three distinct vantage points.
Figure 3: Illustrating the phase and group velocities of solar Rossby waves in this sample.
Figure 4: Sample lifetimes and longitudinal distribution of BP clusters visible in hemispheric Hovmöller diagrams.


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The National Center for Atmospheric Research is sponsored by the National Science Foundation and the compilation of feature databases used was supported by NASA grant NNX08AU30G. W.J.C. and M.P.M. were supported by NSF REU grant 1157020 to the University of Colorado.

Author information




S.W.M. contributed to data collection, data reduction, initial data analysis, manuscript writing and presentation. W.J.C. and M.P.M. contributed to data analysis and concatenation, code development and manuscript editing. R.J.L. contributed to data analysis, data interpretation and manuscript editing.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Scott W. McIntosh.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Figures 1–3 and Supplementary Videos 1–5 captions. (PDF 2177 kb)

Supplementary Video 1

Longitude-latitude variation of the SDO/AIA and STEREO/EUVI brightpoints identification from 1 June 2010 to 31 May 2013. (MP4 48622 kb)

Supplementary Video 2

Longitude-latitude variation of the AIA/EUVI brightpoints density distribution from 1 June 2010 to 31 May 2013. (MP4 15153 kb)

Supplementary Video 3

Pole-on projection for the AIA/EUVI brightpoints density distribution in the southern solar hemisphere. (MP4 31385 kb)

Supplementary Video 4

Pole-on projection for the AIA/EUVI brightpoints density distribution in the northern solar hemisphere. (MP4 32667 kb)

Supplementary Video 5

Latitude versus time variation of the 28-day-averaged AIA/EUVI brightpoints density at different solar longitudes (MP4 6491 kb)

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McIntosh, S., Cramer, W., Pichardo Marcano, M. et al. The detection of Rossby-like waves on the Sun. Nat Astron 1, 0086 (2017).

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