A New Way that Planets Can Affect the Sun

Charles L. Wolff, Paul N. Patrone

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

37 Scopus citations


We derive a perturbation inside a rotating star that occurs when the star is accelerated by orbiting bodies. If a fluid element has rotational and orbital components of angular momentum with respect to the inertially fixed point of a planetary system that are of opposite sign, then the element may have potential energy that could be released by a suitable flow. We demonstrate the energy with a very simple model in which two fluid elements of equal mass exchange positions, calling to mind a turbulent field or natural convection. The exchange releases potential energy that, with a minor exception, is available only in the hemisphere facing the barycenter of the planetary system. We calculate its strength and spatial distribution for the strongest case ("vertical") and for weaker horizontal cases whose motions are all perpendicular to gravity. The vertical cases can raise the kinetic energy of a few well positioned convecting elements in the Sun's envelope by a factor ≤7. This is the first physical mechanism by which planets can have a nontrivial effect on internal solar motions. Occasional small mass exchanges near the solar center and in a recently proposed mixed shell centered at 0.16Rs would carry fresh fuel to deeper levels. This would cause stars like the Sun with appropriate planetary systems to burn somewhat more brightly and have shorter lifetimes than identical stars without planets. The helioseismic sound speed and the long record of sunspot activity offer several bits of evidence that the effect may have been active in the Sun's core, its envelope, and in some vertically stable layers. Additional proof will require direct evidence from helioseismology or from transient waves on the solar surface.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)227-246
Number of pages20
JournalSolar Physics
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • Convection
  • Solar activity
  • Solar interior motions
  • Sun - planet interactions


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