One of the Suns greatest mysteries is about to be unravelled by UK solar astrophysicists hosting a major international workshop at the University of St Andrews from September 6-9th 2004. For years scientists have been baffled by the coronal heating problem: why it is that the light surface of the Sun (and all other solar-like stars) has a temperature of about 6000 degrees Celsius, yet the corona (the crown of light we see around the moon at a total eclipse) is at a temperature of two million degrees?
Understanding our nearest star is important because its behaviour has such an immense impact on our planet. This star provides all the light, heat and energy required for life on Earth and yet there is still much about the Sun that is shrouded in mystery.
"The problem is like an Astrophysics X-file! It is totally counter intuitive that the Suns temperature should rise as you move away from the hot surface," explains Dr Robert Walsh of the University of Central Lancashire and co-organiser of the workshop. "It is like walking away from a fire and suddenly hitting a hotspot, thousands of times hotter than the fire itself."
Using the joint ESA/NASA satellite, the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO), along with another NASA mission called TRACE, researchers have gathered enough data to form two rival theories to explain what has been termed coronal heating. It is now believed that the Suns strong magnetic field is the culprit behind this unique phenomenon. At this SOHO workshop, scientists from the UK and around the world will look at the evidence for these two explanations and try to untangle the clues we now have available to us.
Walsh continues, "SOHOs contribution to the research has been so important because for the first time we can take simultaneous magnetic and extreme ultraviolet images of the Suns atmosphere, allowing us to study the changes in the magnetic field at the same time as the corresponding effect in the corona. Then, using sophisticated computer simulations, we have constructed 3d models of the coronal magnetic field that can be compared with SOHOs observations."
One possible mechanism for coronal heating is called wave heating. Prof Alan Hood from the Solar and Magnetospheric Theory Group at St. Andrews explains: "The Sun has a very strong magnetic field which can carry waves upwards from the bubbling solar surface. Then these waves dump their energy in the corona, like ordinary ocean waves crashing on a beach. The energy of the wave has to go somewhere and in the corona it heats the electrified gases to incredible temperatures."
The other rival mechanism is dependent on twisting the Suns magnetic field beyond breaking point. Prof Richard Harrison of the UKs Rutherford Appleton Laboratory says "The Suns magnetic field has loops, known to be involved in the processes of sun spots and solar flares. These loops reach out into the Suns corona and can become twisted. Like a rubber band, they can become so twisted that eventually they snap. When that happens, they release their energy explosively, heating the coronal gases very rapidly".
The Sun is the only star astronomers can study in close detail and many questions remain. The workshop will also look forwards to future missions such as Solar-B, STEREO and Solar Orbiter that all have important UK involvement through PPARC.
More articles from Physics and Astronomy:
Detecting mirror molecules
23.05.2013 | Harvard University
Researchers Explain Magnetic Field Misbehavior in Solar Flares: The Culprit is Turbulence
23.05.2013 | Johns Hopkins University
New indicator molecules visualise the activation of auto-aggressive T cells in the body as never before
Biological processes are generally based on events at the molecular and cellular level. To understand what happens in the course of infections, diseases or normal bodily functions, scientists would need to examine individual cells and their activity directly in the tissue.
The development of new microscopes and fluorescent dyes in ...
A fried breakfast food popular in Spain provided the inspiration for the development of doughnut-shaped droplets that may provide scientists with a new approach for studying fundamental issues in physics, mathematics and materials.
The doughnut-shaped droplets, a shape known as toroidal, are formed from two dissimilar liquids using a simple rotating stage and an injection needle. About a millimeter in overall size, the droplets are produced individually, their shapes maintained by a surrounding springy material made of polymers.
Droplets in this toroidal shape made ...
Frauhofer FEP will present a novel roll-to-roll manufacturing process for high-barriers and functional films for flexible displays at the SID DisplayWeek 2013 in Vancouver – the International showcase for the Display Industry.
Displays that are flexible and paper thin at the same time?! What might still seem like science fiction will be a major topic at the SID Display Week 2013 that currently takes place in Vancouver in Canada.
High manufacturing cost and a short lifetime are still a major obstacle on ...
University of Würzburg physicists have succeeded in creating a new type of laser.
Its operation principle is completely different from conventional devices, which opens up the possibility of a significantly reduced energy input requirement. The researchers report their work in the current issue of Nature.
It also emits light the waves of which are in phase with one another: the polariton laser, developed ...
Innsbruck physicists led by Rainer Blatt and Peter Zoller experimentally gained a deep insight into the nature of quantum mechanical phase transitions.
They are the first scientists that simulated the competition between two rival dynamical processes at a novel type of transition between two quantum mechanical orders. They have published the results of their work in the journal Nature Physics.
“When water boils, its molecules are released as vapor. We call this ...
23.05.2013 | Physics and Astronomy
23.05.2013 | Health and Medicine
23.05.2013 | Ecology, The Environment and Conservation
17.05.2013 | Event News
15.05.2013 | Event News
08.05.2013 | Event News