The researchers wanted to track the movement of super-hot, ionized gas known as plasma in the sun's interior. These motions are important to our understanding of sunspots and spectacular coronal mass ejections.
The scientists--from New York University, Princeton University, the Max Planck Institute, and NASA--examined high resolution photos of the sun's surface from NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory. From these, they extrapolated the structure of the movement beneath the surface. They likened this technique to the way MRIs allow doctors to "see" inside patients' bodies.
The researchers found that the plasma motions were much weaker than predicted.
"Our results suggest that convective motions in the sun are nearly 100 times smaller than these current theoretical expectations," geoscientist Dr. Shravan Hanasoge, an associate research scholar at Princeton University and visiting scholar at NYU’s Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences, said in a written statement.
The results may mean scientists will "need to overhaul our understanding of the physics of the sun’s interior," Hanasoge explained in the written statement.
The researchers' study was published online June 4, 2012 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Editor's Note: The above video was provided by New York University to HuffPost Science. Courtesy Mark Miesch from Miesch, Brun, DeRosa & Toomre, Astrophysical Journal 2008.