Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Concept: Chromosphere


Superflares are large explosive events on stellar surfaces one to six orders-of-magnitude larger than the largest flares observed on the Sun throughout the space age. Due to the huge amount of energy released in these superflares, it has been speculated if the underlying mechanism is the same as for solar flares, which are caused by magnetic reconnection in the solar corona. Here, we analyse observations made with the LAMOST telescope of 5,648 solar-like stars, including 48 superflare stars. These observations show that superflare stars are generally characterized by larger chromospheric emissions than other stars, including the Sun. However, superflare stars with activity levels lower than, or comparable to, the Sun do exist, suggesting that solar flares and superflares most likely share the same origin. The very large ensemble of solar-like stars included in this study enables detailed and robust estimates of the relation between chromospheric activity and the occurrence of superflares.

Concepts: Sun, Solar wind, Solar flare, Corona, Chromosphere, Photosphere, Plasma physics, Solar eclipse


Heating the outer layers of the magnetically quiet solar atmosphere to more than one million kelvin and accelerating the solar wind requires an energy flux of approximately 100 to 300 watts per square metre, but how this energy is transferred and dissipated there is a puzzle and several alternative solutions have been proposed. Braiding and twisting of magnetic field structures, which is caused by the convective flows at the solar surface, was suggested as an efficient mechanism for atmospheric heating. Convectively driven vortex flows that harbour magnetic fields are observed to be abundant in the photosphere (the visible surface of the Sun). Recently, corresponding swirling motions have been discovered in the chromosphere, the atmospheric layer sandwiched between the photosphere and the corona. Here we report the imprints of these chromospheric swirls in the transition region and low corona, and identify them as observational signatures of rapidly rotating magnetic structures. These ubiquitous structures, which resemble super-tornadoes under solar conditions, reach from the convection zone into the upper solar atmosphere and provide an alternative mechanism for channelling energy from the lower into the upper solar atmosphere.

Concepts: Earth, Sun, Star, Solar wind, Solar flare, Corona, Chromosphere, Photosphere


As the interface between the Sun’s photosphere and corona, the chromosphere and transition region play a key role in the formation and acceleration of the solar wind. Observations from the Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph reveal the prevalence of intermittent small-scale jets with speeds of 80 to 250 kilometers per second from the narrow bright network lanes of this interface region. These jets have lifetimes of 20 to 80 seconds and widths of ≤300 kilometers. They originate from small-scale bright regions, often preceded by footpoint brightenings and accompanied by transverse waves with amplitudes of ~20 kilometers per second. Many jets reach temperatures of at least ~10(5) kelvin and constitute an important element of the transition region structures. They are likely an intermittent but persistent source of mass and energy for the solar wind.

Concepts: Light, Sun, Solar flare, Corona, Chromosphere, Photosphere, Solar and Heliospheric Observatory, Solar transition region


The physical processes causing energy exchange between the Sun’s hot corona and its cool lower atmosphere remain poorly understood. The chromosphere and transition region (TR) form an interface region between the surface and the corona that is highly sensitive to the coronal heating mechanism. High-resolution observations with the Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph (IRIS) reveal rapid variability (~20 to 60 seconds) of intensity and velocity on small spatial scales (≲500 kilometers) at the footpoints of hot and dynamic coronal loops. The observations are consistent with numerical simulations of heating by beams of nonthermal electrons, which are generated in small impulsive (≲30 seconds) heating events called “coronal nanoflares.” The accelerated electrons deposit a sizable fraction of their energy (≲10(25) erg) in the chromosphere and TR. Our analysis provides tight constraints on the properties of such electron beams and new diagnostics for their presence in the nonflaring corona.

Concepts: Electron, Light, Sun, TRACE, Corona, Chromosphere, Plasma physics, Coronal loop


The heating of the outer solar atmospheric layers, i.e., the transition region and corona, to high temperatures is a long-standing problem in solar (and stellar) physics. Solutions have been hampered by an incomplete understanding of the magnetically controlled structure of these regions. The high spatial and temporal resolution observations with the Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph (IRIS) at the solar limb reveal a plethora of short, low-lying loops or loop segments at transition-region temperatures that vary rapidly, on the time scales of minutes. We argue that the existence of these loops solves a long-standing observational mystery. At the same time, based on comparison with numerical models, this detection sheds light on a critical piece of the coronal heating puzzle.

Concepts: Light, Sun, Philosophy of science, Knowledge, Resolution, Corona, Chromosphere


The solar chromosphere and transition region (TR) form an interface between the Sun’s surface and its hot outer atmosphere. There, most of the nonthermal energy that powers the solar atmosphere is transformed into heat, although the detailed mechanism remains elusive. High-resolution (0.33-arc second) observations with NASA’s Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph (IRIS) reveal a chromosphere and TR that are replete with twist or torsional motions on sub-arc second scales, occurring in active regions, quiet Sun regions, and coronal holes alike. We coordinated observations with the Swedish 1-meter Solar Telescope (SST) to quantify these twisting motions and their association with rapid heating to at least TR temperatures. This view of the interface region provides insight into what heats the low solar atmosphere.

Concepts: Energy, Sun, Heat, Solar wind, Solar flare, Corona, Chromosphere, Coronal loop


Solar X-ray jets are thought to be made by a burst of reconnection of closed magnetic field at the base of a jet with ambient open field. In the accepted version of the ‘emerging-flux’ model, such a reconnection occurs at a plasma current sheet between the open field and the emerging closed field, and also forms a localized X-ray brightening that is usually observed at the edge of the jet’s base. Here we report high-resolution X-ray and extreme-ultraviolet observations of 20 randomly selected X-ray jets that form in coronal holes at the Sun’s poles. In each jet, contrary to the emerging-flux model, a miniature version of the filament eruptions that initiate coronal mass ejections drives the jet-producing reconnection. The X-ray bright point occurs by reconnection of the ‘legs’ of the minifilament-carrying erupting closed field, analogous to the formation of solar flares in larger-scale eruptions. Previous observations have found that some jets are driven by base-field eruptions, but only one such study, of only one jet, provisionally questioned the emerging-flux model. Our observations support the view that solar filament eruptions are formed by a fundamental explosive magnetic process that occurs on a vast range of scales, from the biggest mass ejections and flare eruptions down to X-ray jets, and perhaps even down to smaller jets that may power coronal heating. A similar scenario has previously been suggested, but was inferred from different observations and based on a different origin of the erupting minifilament.

Concepts: Sun, Solar wind, Solar flare, Corona, Chromosphere, Aurora, Magnetic reconnection, Coronal mass ejection


The solar atmosphere was traditionally represented with a simple one-dimensional model. Over the past few decades, this paradigm shifted for the chromosphere and corona that constitute the outer atmosphere, which is now considered a dynamic structured envelope. Recent observations by the Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph (IRIS) reveal that it is difficult to determine what is up and down, even in the cool 6000-kelvin photosphere just above the solar surface: This region hosts pockets of hot plasma transiently heated to almost 100,000 kelvin. The energy to heat and accelerate the plasma requires a considerable fraction of the energy from flares, the largest solar disruptions. These IRIS observations not only confirm that the photosphere is more complex than conventionally thought, but also provide insight into the energy conversion in the process of magnetic reconnection.

Concepts: Energy, Magnetohydrodynamics, Sun, Solar flare, Corona, Chromosphere, Photosphere, Plasma physics


The solar corona, the tenuous outer atmosphere of the Sun, is orders of magnitude hotter than the solar surface. This ‘coronal heating problem’ requires the identification of a heat source to balance losses due to thermal conduction, radiation and (in some locations) convection. The review papers in this Theo Murphy meeting issue present an overview of recent observational findings, large- and small-scale numerical modelling of physical processes occurring in the solar atmosphere and other aspects which may affect our understanding of the proposed heating mechanisms. At the same time, they also set out the directions and challenges which must be tackled by future research. In this brief introduction, we summarize some of the issues and themes which reoccur throughout this issue.

Concepts: Sun, Heat, Solar wind, Solar flare, Corona, Chromosphere, Solar eclipse, Coronal loop


The energy for the coronal heating must be provided from the convection zone. However, the amount and the method by which this energy is transferred into the corona depend on the properties of the lower atmosphere and the corona itself. We review: (i) how the energy could be built in the lower solar atmosphere, (ii) how this energy is transferred through the solar atmosphere, and (iii) how the energy is finally dissipated in the chromosphere and/or corona. Any mechanism of energy transport has to deal with the various physical processes in the lower atmosphere. We will focus on a physical process that seems to be highly important in the chromosphere and not deeply studied until recently: the ion-neutral interaction effects in the chromosphere. We review the relevance and the role of the partial ionization in the chromosphere and show that this process actually impacts considerably the outer solar atmosphere. We include analysis of our 2.5D radiative magnetohydrodynamic simulations with the Bifrost code (Gudiksen et al. 2011 Astron. Astrophys. 531, A154 (doi:10.1051/0004-6361/201116520)) including the partial ionization effects on the chromosphere and corona and thermal conduction along magnetic field lines. The photosphere, chromosphere and transition region are partially ionized and the interaction between ionized particles and neutral particles has important consequences on the magneto-thermodynamics of these layers. The partial ionization effects are treated using generalized Ohm’s law, i.e. we consider the Hall term and the ambipolar diffusion (Pedersen dissipation) in the induction equation. The interaction between the different species affects the modelled atmosphere as follows: (i) the ambipolar diffusion dissipates magnetic energy and increases the minimum temperature in the chromosphere and (ii) the upper chromosphere may get heated and expanded over a greater range of heights. These processes reveal appreciable differences between the modelled atmospheres of simulations with and without ion-neutral interaction effects.

Concepts: Magnetic field, Sun, Thermodynamics, Heat, Plasma, Corona, Chromosphere, Plasma physics