Sun’s magnetic field originates surprisingly close to the surface

On May 22, 2024 an international team of researchers, including CIERA Professor Daniel Lecoanet, published a paper in Nature that brings scientists closer than ever before to solving a 400-year-old solar mystery that stumped even famed astronomer Galileo Galilei.

Since first observing the sun’s magnetic activity, astronomers have struggled to pinpoint where the process originates. Now, after running a series of complex calculations on a NASA supercomputer, the researchers discovered the magnetic field is generated about 20,000 miles below the sun’s surface. The finding contradicts previous theories, which suggest the phenomenon has deep origins — beginning more than 130,000 miles below the sun’s surface.

This illustration lays a depiction of the sun’s magnetic fields over an image captured by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory. The image was featured on the cover of the Nature Astronomy issue that included the team’s paper.

Not only does the new discovery help us better understand our sun’s dynamic processes, it also could help scientists more accurately forecast powerful solar storms. Although May 2024’s strong solar storms released beautiful, extended views of the Northern Lights, similar storms can cause intense destruction — damaging Earth-orbiting satellites, electricity grids and radio communications.

Read the full CIERA news story here.


  • Science,
  • Interdisciplinary,
  • Data Science & Computing