The result, which appears in the journal the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, upends our understanding of how heat is transported outwards by the Sun and challenges existing explanations of the formation of sunspots and magnetic field generation.
The work was conducted by researchers from NYU's Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences and its Department of Physics, Princeton University, the Max Planck Institute, and NASA.
The Sun's heat, generated by nuclear fusion in its core, is transported to the surface by convection in the outer third. However, our understanding of this process is largely theoretical—the Sun is opaque, so convection cannot be directly observed. As a result, theories largely rest on what we know about fluid flow and then applying them to the Sun, which is primarily composed of hydrogen, helium, and plasma.
Developing a more precise grasp of convection is vital to comprehending a range of phenomena, including the formation of sunspots, which have a lower temperature than the rest of the Sun's surface, and the Sun's magnetic field, which is created by its interior plasma motions.
In order to develop their "MRI" of the Sun's plasma flows, the researchers examined high-resolution images of the Sun's surface taken by the Helioseismic and Magnetic Imager (HMI) onboard NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory. Using a 16-million pixel camera, HMI measures motions on the Sun's surface caused by convection.
Once the scientists captured the precise movement waves on the Sun's surface, they were able to calculate its unseen plasma motions. This procedure is not unlike measuring the strength and direction of an ocean's current by monitoring the time it takes a swimmer to move across the water—currents moving against the swimmer will result in slower times while those going in the same direction will produce faster times, with stronger and weaker currents enhancing or diminishing the impact on the swimmer.
What they found significantly departed from existing theory--specifically, the speed of the Sun's plasma motions were approximately 100 times slower than scientists had previously projected.
"Our current theoretical understanding of magnetic field generation in the Sun relies on these motions being of a certain magnitude," explained Shravan Hanasoge, an associate research scholar in geosciences at Princeton University and a visiting scholar at NYU's Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences. "These convective motions are currently believed to prop up large-scale circulations in the outer third of the Sun that generate magnetic fields."
"However, our results suggest that convective motions in the Sun are nearly 100 times smaller than these current theoretical expectations," continued Hanasoge, also a postdoctoral fellow at the Max Plank Institute in Katlenburg-Lindau, Germany. "If these motions are indeed that slow in the Sun, then the most widely accepted theory concerning the generation of solar magnetic field is broken, leaving us with no compelling theory to explain its generation of magnetic fields and the need to overhaul our understanding of the physics of the Sun's interior."
The study's other co-authors were Thomas Duvall, an astrophysicist at NASA, and Katepalli Sreenivasan, University Professor in NYU's Department of Physics and Courant Institute. Sreenivasan is also Senior Vice Provost for Science and Technology for the Global Network University at NYU and Provost of Polytechnic Institute of NYU.
James Devitt | EurekAlert!
Magnetic field traces gas and dust swirling around supermassive black hole
22.02.2018 | Royal Astronomical Society
UMass Amherst physicists contribute to dark matter detector success
22.02.2018 | University of Massachusetts at Amherst
Quantum computers may one day solve algorithmic problems which even the biggest supercomputers today can’t manage. But how do you test a quantum computer to...
For the first time, a team of researchers at the Max-Planck Institute (MPI) for Polymer Research in Mainz, Germany, has succeeded in making an integrated circuit (IC) from just a monolayer of a semiconducting polymer via a bottom-up, self-assembly approach.
In the self-assembly process, the semiconducting polymer arranges itself into an ordered monolayer in a transistor. The transistors are binary switches used...
Breakthrough provides a new concept of the design of molecular motors, sensors and electricity generators at nanoscale
Researchers from the Institute of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry of the CAS (IOCB Prague), Institute of Physics of the CAS (IP CAS) and Palacký University...
For photographers and scientists, lenses are lifesavers. They reflect and refract light, making possible the imaging systems that drive discovery through the microscope and preserve history through cameras.
But today's glass-based lenses are bulky and resist miniaturization. Next-generation technologies, such as ultrathin cameras or tiny microscopes, require...
Scientists from the University of Zurich have succeeded for the first time in tracking individual stem cells and their neuronal progeny over months within the intact adult brain. This study sheds light on how new neurons are produced throughout life.
The generation of new nerve cells was once thought to taper off at the end of embryonic development. However, recent research has shown that the adult brain...
15.02.2018 | Event News
13.02.2018 | Event News
12.02.2018 | Event News
22.02.2018 | Life Sciences
22.02.2018 | Physics and Astronomy
22.02.2018 | Earth Sciences