Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Longstanding Mystery of Sun's Hot Outer Atmosphere Solved

One of the most enduring mysteries in solar physics is why the Sun's outer atmosphere, or corona, is millions of degrees hotter than its surface.

Now scientists believe they have discovered a major source of hot gas that replenishes the corona: jets of plasma shooting up from just above the Sun's surface.

The finding addresses a fundamental question in astrophysics: how energy is moved from the Sun's interior to create its hot outer atmosphere.

"It's always been quite a puzzle to figure out why the Sun's atmosphere is hotter than its surface," says Scott McIntosh, a solar physicist at the High Altitude Observatory of the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, Colo., who was involved in the study.

"By identifying that these jets insert heated plasma into the Sun's outer atmosphere, we can gain a much greater understanding of that region and possibly improve our knowledge of the Sun's subtle influence on the Earth's upper atmosphere."

The research, results of which are published this week in the journal Science, was conducted by scientists from Lockheed Martin's Solar and Astrophysics Laboratory (LMSAL), NCAR, and the University of Oslo. It was supported by NASA and the National Science Foundation (NSF), NCAR's sponsor.

"These observations are a significant step in understanding observed temperatures in the solar corona," says Rich Behnke of NSF's Division of Atmospheric and Geospace Sciences, which funded the research.

"They provide new insight about the energy output of the Sun and other stars. The results are also a great example of the power of collaboration among university, private industry and government scientists and organizations."

The research team focused on jets of plasma known as spicules, which are fountains of plasma propelled upward from near the surface of the Sun into the outer atmosphere.

For decades scientists believed spicules could send heat into the corona. However, following observational research in the 1980s, it was found that spicule plasma did not reach coronal temperatures, and so the theory largely fell out of vogue.

"Heating of spicules to millions of degrees has never been directly observed, so their role in coronal heating had been dismissed as unlikely," says Bart De Pontieu, the lead researcher and a solar physicist at LMSAL.

In 2007, De Pontieu, McIntosh, and their colleagues identified a new class of spicules that moved much faster and were shorter-lived than the traditional spicules.

These "Type II" spicules shoot upward at high speeds, often in excess of 100 kilometers per second, before disappearing.

The rapid disappearance of these jets suggested that the plasma they carried might get very hot, but direct observational evidence of this process was missing.

The researchers used new observations from the Atmospheric Imaging Assembly on NASA's recently launched Solar Dynamics Observatory and NASA's Focal Plane Package for the Solar Optical Telescope (SOT) on the Japanese Hinode satellite to test their hypothesis.

"The high spatial and temporal resolution of the newer instruments was crucial in revealing this previously hidden coronal mass supply," says McIntosh.

"Our observations reveal, for the first time, the one-to-one connection between plasma that is heated to millions of degrees and the spicules that insert this plasma into the corona."

The findings provide an observational challenge to the existing theories of coronal heating.

During the past few decades, scientists proposed a wide variety of theoretical models, but the lack of detailed observation significantly hampered progress.

"One of our biggest challenges is to understand what drives and heats the material in the spicules," says De Pontieu.

A key step, according to De Pontieu, will be to better understand the interface region between the Sun's visible surface, or photosphere, and its corona.

Another NASA mission, the Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph (IRIS), is scheduled for launch in 2012 to provide high-fidelity data on the complex processes and enormous contrasts of density, temperature and magnetic field between the photosphere and corona. Researchers hope this will reveal more about the spicule heating and launch mechanism.

The LMSAL is part of the Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company, which designs and develops, tests, manufactures and operates a full spectrum of advanced-technology systems for national security and military, civil government and commercial customers.

Media Contacts
Cheryl Dybas, NSF (703) 292-7734
Rachael Drummond, NCAR (303) 497-8604
The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering. In fiscal year (FY) 2010, its budget is about $6.9 billion. NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 universities and institutions. Each year, NSF receives over 45,000 competitive requests for funding, and makes over 11,500 new funding awards. NSF also awards over $400 million in professional and service contracts yearly.

Cheryl Dybas | EurekAlert!
Further information:

Further reports about: Atmospheric Hot microbes LMSAL Longstanding McIntosh NASA NCAR NSF Observatory Solar Decathlon atmosphere

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Move over, lasers: Scientists can now create holograms from neutrons, too
21.10.2016 | National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)

nachricht Finding the lightest superdeformed triaxial atomic nucleus
20.10.2016 | The Henryk Niewodniczanski Institute of Nuclear Physics Polish Academy of Sciences

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

Im Focus: New Products - Highlights of COMPAMED 2016

COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.

In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...

Im Focus: Ultra-thin ferroelectric material for next-generation electronics

'Ferroelectric' materials can switch between different states of electrical polarization in response to an external electric field. This flexibility means they show promise for many applications, for example in electronic devices and computer memory. Current ferroelectric materials are highly valued for their thermal and chemical stability and rapid electro-mechanical responses, but creating a material that is scalable down to the tiny sizes needed for technologies like silicon-based semiconductors (Si-based CMOS) has proven challenging.

Now, Hiroshi Funakubo and co-workers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, in collaboration with researchers across Japan, have conducted experiments to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Resolving the mystery of preeclampsia

21.10.2016 | Health and Medicine

Stanford researchers create new special-purpose computer that may someday save us billions

21.10.2016 | Information Technology

From ancient fossils to future cars

21.10.2016 | Materials Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>