Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

SDO Spots Extra Energy in the Sun's Corona

28.07.2011
Like giant strands of seaweed some 32,000 miles high, material shooting up from the sun sways back and forth with the atmosphere. In the ocean, it's moving water that pulls the seaweed along for a ride; in the sun's corona, magnetic field ripples called Alfvén waves cause the swaying.

For years these waves were too difficult to detect directly, but NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) is now able to track the movements of this solar "seaweed" and measure how much energy is carried by the Alfvén waves. The research shows that the waves carry more energy than previously thought, and possibly enough to drive two solar phenomena whose causes remain points of debate: the intense heating of the corona to some 20 times hotter than the sun's surface and solar winds that blast up to 1.5 million miles per hour.


These jets, known as spicules, were captured in an SDO image on April 25, 2010. Combined with the energy from ripples in the magnetic field, they may contain enough energy to power the solar wind that streams from the sun toward Earth at 1.5 million miles per hour. Credit: NASA/SDO/AIA

"SDO has amazing resolution so you can actually see individual waves," says Scott McIntosh at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo. "Now we can see that instead of these waves having about 1000th the energy needed as we previously thought, it has the equivalent of about 1100W light bulb for every 11 square feet of the sun's surface, which is enough to heat the sun's atmosphere and drive the solar wind."

McIntosh published his research in a Nature article appearing on July 28. Alfvén waves, he says, are actually fairly simple. They are waves that travel up and down a magnetic field line much the way a wave travels up and down a plucked string. The material surrounding the sun -- electrified gas called plasma – moves in concert with magnetic fields. SDO can see this material in motion and so can track the Alfvén waves.

Alfvén waves are part of a much more complex system of magnetic fields and plasma surrounding the sun. Understanding that system could help answer general questions such as what initiates geomagnetic storms near Earth and more focused questions such as what causes coronal heating and speeds of the solar wind – a field of inquiry in which there are few agreed-upon answers.

"We know there are mechanisms that supply a huge reservoir of energy at the sun's surface," says space scientist Vladimir Airapetian at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. "This energy is pumped into magnetic field energy, carried up into the sun's atmosphere and then released as heat." But determining the details of this mechanism has long been debated. Airapetian points out that a study like this confirms Alfvén waves may be part of that process, but that even with SDO we do not yet have the imaging resolution to prove it definitively.

When the waves were first observed in 2007 (more than six decades after being hypothesized by Hannes Alfvén in 1942), it was clear that they could in theory carry energy up from the sun's surface to its atmosphere. However, the 2007 observations showed them to be too weak to contain the great amounts of energy needed to heat the corona so dramatically.

This study says that those original numbers may have been underestimated. McIntosh, in collaboration with a team from Lockheed Martin, Norway's University of Oslo, and Belgium's Catholic University of Leuven, analyzed the great oscillations in movies from SDO's Atmospheric Imagine Assembly (AIA) instrument captured on April 25, 2010.

"Our code name for this research was 'The Wiggles,'" says McIntosh. "Because the movies really look like the sun was made of Jell-O wiggling back and forth everywhere. Clearly, these wiggles carry energy."

The team tracked the motions of this wiggly material spewing up -- in great jets known as spicules – as well as how much the spicules sway back and forth. They compared these observations to models of how such material would behave if undergoing motion from the Alfvén waves and found them to be a good match.

Going forward, they could analyze the shape, speed, and energy of the waves. The sinusoidal curves deviated outward at speeds of over 30 miles per second and repeated themselves every 150 to 550 seconds. These speeds mean the waves would be energetic enough to accelerate the fast solar wind and heat the quiet corona. The shortness of the repetition – known as the period of the wave – is also important. The shorter the period, the easier it is for the wave to release its energy into the coronal atmosphere, a crucial step in the process.

Earlier work with this same data also showed that the spicules achieved coronal temperatures of at least 1.8 million degrees Fahrenheit. Together the heat and Alfvén waves do seem to have enough energy to keep the roiling corona so hot. The energy is not quite enough to account for the largest bursts of radiation in the corona, however.

"Knowing there may be enough energy in the waves is only one half of the problem," says Goddard's Airapetian. "The next question is to find out what fraction of that energy is converted into heat. It could be all of it, or it could be 20 percent of it – so we need to know the details of that conversion."

In practice, that means studying more about the waves to understand just how they impart their energy into the surrounding atmosphere.

"We still don't perfectly understand the process going on, but we're getting better and better observations," says McIntosh. "The next step is for people to improve the theories and models to really capture the essence of the physics that's happening."

Karen C. Fox
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

Karen Fox | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.nasa.gov

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht From rocks in Colorado, evidence of a 'chaotic solar system'
23.02.2017 | University of Wisconsin-Madison

nachricht Prediction: More gas-giants will be found orbiting Sun-like stars
22.02.2017 | Carnegie Institution for Science

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: Breakthrough with a chain of gold atoms

In the field of nanoscience, an international team of physicists with participants from Konstanz has achieved a breakthrough in understanding heat transport

In the field of nanoscience, an international team of physicists with participants from Konstanz has achieved a breakthrough in understanding heat transport

Im Focus: DNA repair: a new letter in the cell alphabet

Results reveal how discoveries may be hidden in scientific “blind spots”

Cells need to repair damaged DNA in our genes to prevent the development of cancer and other diseases. Our cells therefore activate and send “repair-proteins”...

Im Focus: Dresdner scientists print tomorrow’s world

The Fraunhofer IWS Dresden and Technische Universität Dresden inaugurated their jointly operated Center for Additive Manufacturing Dresden (AMCD) with a festive ceremony on February 7, 2017. Scientists from various disciplines perform research on materials, additive manufacturing processes and innovative technologies, which build up components in a layer by layer process. This technology opens up new horizons for component design and combinations of functions. For example during fabrication, electrical conductors and sensors are already able to be additively manufactured into components. They provide information about stress conditions of a product during operation.

The 3D-printing technology, or additive manufacturing as it is often called, has long made the step out of scientific research laboratories into industrial...

Im Focus: Mimicking nature's cellular architectures via 3-D printing

Research offers new level of control over the structure of 3-D printed materials

Nature does amazing things with limited design materials. Grass, for example, can support its own weight, resist strong wind loads, and recover after being...

Im Focus: Three Magnetic States for Each Hole

Nanometer-scale magnetic perforated grids could create new possibilities for computing. Together with international colleagues, scientists from the Helmholtz Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR) have shown how a cobalt grid can be reliably programmed at room temperature. In addition they discovered that for every hole ("antidot") three magnetic states can be configured. The results have been published in the journal "Scientific Reports".

Physicist Dr. Rantej Bali from the HZDR, together with scientists from Singapore and Australia, designed a special grid structure in a thin layer of cobalt in...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Booth and panel discussion – The Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings at the AAAS 2017 Annual Meeting

13.02.2017 | Event News

Complex Loading versus Hidden Reserves

10.02.2017 | Event News

International Conference on Crystal Growth in Freiburg

09.02.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Stingless bees have their nests protected by soldiers

24.02.2017 | Life Sciences

New risk factors for anxiety disorders

24.02.2017 | Life Sciences

MWC 2017: 5G Capital Berlin

24.02.2017 | Trade Fair News

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>