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!
Neutron star merger directly observed for the first time
17.10.2017 | University of Maryland
Breaking: the first light from two neutron stars merging
17.10.2017 | American Association for the Advancement of Science
University of Maryland researchers contribute to historic detection of gravitational waves and light created by event
On August 17, 2017, at 12:41:04 UTC, scientists made the first direct observation of a merger between two neutron stars--the dense, collapsed cores that remain...
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Material defects in end products can quickly result in failures in many areas of industry, and have a massive impact on the safe use of their products. This is why, in the field of quality assurance, intelligent, nondestructive sensor systems play a key role. They allow testing components and parts in a rapid and cost-efficient manner without destroying the actual product or changing its surface. Experts from the Fraunhofer IZFP in Saarbrücken will be presenting two exhibits at the Blechexpo in Stuttgart from 7–10 November 2017 that allow fast, reliable, and automated characterization of materials and detection of defects (Hall 5, Booth 5306).
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Using a new cooling technique MPQ scientists succeed at observing collisions in a dense beam of cold and slow dipolar molecules.
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Scientists from the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics, using high precision laser spectroscopy of atomic hydrogen, confirm the surprisingly small value of the proton radius determined from muonic hydrogen.
It was one of the breakthroughs of the year 2010: Laser spectroscopy of muonic hydrogen resulted in a value for the proton charge radius that was significantly...
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