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

Concept: Corona


Solar flares signify the sudden release of magnetic energy and are sources of so called space weather. The fine structures (below 500 km) of flares are rarely observed and are accessible to only a few instruments world-wide. Here we present observation of a solar flare using exceptionally high resolution images from the 1.6 m New Solar Telescope (NST) equipped with high order adaptive optics at Big Bear Solar Observatory (BBSO). The observation reveals the process of the flare in unprecedented detail, including the flare ribbon propagating across the sunspots, coronal rain (made of condensing plasma) streaming down along the post-flare loops, and the chromosphere’s response to the impact of coronal rain, showing fine-scale brightenings at the footpoints of the falling plasma. Taking advantage of the resolving power of the NST, we measure the cross-sectional widths of flare ribbons, post-flare loops and footpoint brighenings, which generally lie in the range of 80-200 km, well below the resolution of most current instruments used for flare studies. Confining the scale of such fine structure provides an essential piece of information in modeling the energy transport mechanism of flares, which is an important issue in solar and plasma physics.

Concepts: Sun, Solar wind, Solar flare, Corona, Photosphere, Aurora, Plasma physics, Ionosphere


The elemental composition in the coronae of low-activity solar-like stars appears to be related to fundamental stellar properties such as rotation, surface gravity, and spectral type. Here we use full-Sun observations from the Solar Dynamics Observatory, to show that when the Sun is observed as a star, the variation of coronal composition is highly correlated with a proxy for solar activity, the F10.7 cm radio flux, and therefore with the solar cycle phase. Similar cyclic variations should therefore be detectable spectroscopically in X-ray observations of solar analogs. The plasma composition in full-disk observations of the Sun is related to the evolution of coronal magnetic field activity. Our observations therefore introduce an uncertainty into the nature of any relationship between coronal composition and fixed stellar properties. The results highlight the importance of systematic full-cycle observations for understanding the elemental composition of solar-like stellar coronae.The Sun’s elemental composition is a vital part of understanding the processes that transport energy from the interior to the outer atmosphere. Here, the authors show that if the Sun is observed as a star, then the variation of coronal composition is highly correlated with the F10.7cm radio flux.

Concepts: Energy, Earth, Sun, Plasma, Star, Sunspot, Corona, Solar cycle


Coronal mass ejections (CMEs) are episodic eruptions of solar plasma and magnetic flux that travel out through the solar system, driving extreme space weather. Interpretation of CME observations and their interaction with the solar wind typically assumes CMEs are coherent, almost solid-like objects. We show that supersonic radial propagation of CMEs away from the Sun results in geometric expansion of CME plasma parcels at a speed faster than the local wave speed. Thus information cannot propagate across the CME. Comparing our results with observed properties of over 400 CMEs, we show that CMEs cease to be coherent magnetohydrodynamic structures within 0.3 AU of the Sun. This suggests Earth-directed CMEs are less like billiard balls and more like dust clouds, with apparent coherence only due to similar initial conditions and quasi homogeneity of the medium through which they travel. The incoherence of CMEs suggests interpretation of CME observations requires accurate reconstruction of the ambient solar wind with which they interact, and that simple assumptions about the shape of the CMEs are likely to be invalid when significant spatial/temporal gradients in ambient solar wind conditions are present.

Concepts: Earth, Sun, Weather, Solar System, Solar wind, Corona, Coronal mass ejection, Space weather


Through reduction of a huge data set spanning 2010-2017, we compare mean global changes in temperature, emission measure (EM), and underlying photospheric magnetic field of the solar corona over most of the last activity cycle. The quiet coronal mean temperature rises from 1.4 to 1.8 MK, whereas EM increases by almost a factor of 50% from solar minimum to maximum. An increased high-temperature component near 3 MK at solar maximum drives the increase in quiet coronal mean temperature, whereas the bulk of the plasma remains near 1.6 MK throughout the cycle. The mean, spatially smoothed magnitude of the quiet Sun magnetic field rises from 1.6 G in 2011 to peak at 2.0 G in 2015. Active region conditions are highly variable, but their mean remains approximately constant over the cycle, although there is a consistent decrease in active region high-temperature emission (near 3 MK) between the peak of solar maximum and present. Active region mean temperature, EM, and magnetic field magnitude are highly correlated. Correlation between sunspot/active region area and quiet coronal conditions shows the important influence of decaying sunspots in driving global changes, although we find no appreciable delay between changes in active region area and quiet Sun magnetic field strength. The hot coronal contribution to extreme ultraviolet (EUV) irradiance is dominated by the quiet corona throughout most of the cycle, whereas the high variability is driven by active regions. Solar EUV irradiance cannot be predicted accurately by sunspot index alone, highlighting the need for continued measurements.

Concepts: Sun, Plasma, Solar flare, Sunspot, Corona, Photosphere, Solar cycle, Solar eclipse


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


In the lower solar atmosphere, the chromosphere is permeated by jets known as spicules, in which plasma is propelled at speeds of 50 to 150 kilometers per second into the corona. The origin of the spicules is poorly understood, although they are expected to play a role in heating the million-degree corona and are associated with Alfvénic waves that help drive the solar wind. We compare magnetohydrodynamic simulations of spicules with observations from the Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph and the Swedish 1-m Solar Telescope. Spicules are shown to occur when magnetic tension is amplified and transported upward through interactions between ions and neutrals or ambipolar diffusion. The tension is impulsively released to drive flows, heat plasma (through ambipolar diffusion), and generate Alfvénic waves.

Concepts: Magnetic field, Magnetohydrodynamics, Sun, Plasma, Solar wind, Solar flare, Corona, Plasma physics


Space weather refers to dynamic conditions on the Sun and in the space environment of the Earth, which are often driven by solar eruptions and their subsequent interplanetary disturbances. It has been unclear how an extreme space weather storm forms and how severe it can be. Here we report and investigate an extreme event with multi-point remote-sensing and in situ observations. The formation of the extreme storm showed striking novel features. We suggest that the in-transit interaction between two closely launched coronal mass ejections resulted in the extreme enhancement of the ejecta magnetic field observed near 1 AU at STEREO A. The fast transit to STEREO A (in only 18.6 h), or the unusually weak deceleration of the event, was caused by the preconditioning of the upstream solar wind by an earlier solar eruption. These results provide a new view crucial to solar physics and space weather as to how an extreme space weather event can arise from a combination of solar eruptions.

Concepts: Earth, Sun, Solar System, Solar wind, Solar flare, Geomagnetic storm, Corona, Coronal mass ejection


Solar flares are spectacular coronal events that release large amounts of energy. They are classified as either eruptive or confined, depending on whether they are associated with a coronal mass ejection. Two types of model have been developed to identify the mechanism that triggers confined flares, although it has hitherto not been possible to decide between them because the magnetic field at the origin of the flares could not be determined with the required accuracy. In the first type of model, the triggering is related to the topological complexity of the flaring structure, which implies the presence of magnetically singular surfaces. This picture is observationally supported by the fact that radiative emission occurs near these features in many flaring regions. The second type of model attributes a key role to the formation of a twisted flux rope, which becomes unstable. Its plausibility is supported by simulations, by interpretations of some observations and by laboratory experiments. Here we report modelling of a confined event that uses the measured photospheric magnetic field as input. We first use a static model to compute the slowly evolving magnetic state of the corona before the eruption, and then use a dynamical model to determine the evolution during the eruption itself. We find that a magnetic flux rope must be present throughout the entire event to match the field measurements. This rope evolves slowly before saturating and suddenly erupting. Its energy is insufficient to break through the overlying field, whose lines form a confining cage, but its twist is large enough to trigger a kink instability, leading to the confined flare, as previously suggested. Topology is not the main cause of the flare, but it traces out the locations of the X-ray emission. We show that a weaker magnetic cage would have produced a more energetic eruption with a coronal mass ejection, associated with a predicted energy upper bound for a given region.

Concepts: Magnetic field, Energy, Sun, Magnetism, Magnetic flux, Solar wind, Corona, Coronal mass ejection


Magnetically driven eruptions on the Sun, from stellar-scale coronal mass ejections to small-scale coronal X-ray and extreme-ultraviolet jets, have frequently been observed to involve the ejection of the highly stressed magnetic flux of a filament. Theoretically, these two phenomena have been thought to arise through very different mechanisms: coronal mass ejections from an ideal (non-dissipative) process, whereby the energy release does not require a change in the magnetic topology, as in the kink or torus instability; and coronal jets from a resistive process involving magnetic reconnection. However, it was recently concluded from new observations that all coronal jets are driven by filament ejection, just like large mass ejections. This suggests that the two phenomena have physically identical origin and hence that a single mechanism may be responsible, that is, either mass ejections arise from reconnection, or jets arise from an ideal instability. Here we report simulations of a coronal jet driven by filament ejection, whereby a region of highly sheared magnetic field near the solar surface becomes unstable and erupts. The results show that magnetic reconnection causes the energy release via ‘magnetic breakout’-a positive-feedback mechanism between filament ejection and reconnection. We conclude that if coronal mass ejections and jets are indeed of physically identical origin (although on different spatial scales) then magnetic reconnection (rather than an ideal process) must also underlie mass ejections, and that magnetic breakout is a universal model for solar eruptions.

Concepts: Magnetic field, Magnetohydrodynamics, Sun, Magnetism, Magnetic flux, Solar flare, Corona, Plasma physics


The observations of solar flare onsets show rapid increase of hard and soft X-rays, ultra-violet emission with large Doppler blue shifts associated with plasma upflows, and Hα hydrogen emission with red shifts up to 1-4 Å. Modern radiative hydrodynamic models account well for blue-shifted emission, but struggle to reproduce closely the red-shifted Hα lines. Here we present a joint hydrodynamic and radiative model showing that during the first seconds of beam injection the effects caused by beam electrons can reproduce Hα line profiles with large red-shifts closely matching those observed in a C1.5 flare by the Swedish Solar Telescope. The model also accounts closely for timing and magnitude of upward motion to the corona observed 29 s after the event onset in 171 Å by the Atmospheric Imaging Assembly/Solar Dynamics Observatory.

Concepts: Electron, Light, Photoelectric effect, Electromagnetic radiation, Sun, Solar wind, Corona, Ionosphere