(ORDO NEWS) — The sun in the sky seems to be the same day after day, but if you look closely, our star is full of turbulent plasma.
Some of the craziest things that happen on the Sun are flares – colossal plasma loops erupting that are much larger than Earth in scale. While this activity is common, astronomers still don’t fully understand what causes it.
Now, for the first time, physicists have measured and characterized the magnetic field of a giant current sheet – a surface electric current – that travels through the flare region to the core, which releases the energy.
“The sudden release of magnetic energy through the reconnection current sheet has long been thought to be the cause of these large plasma eruptions, but its magnetic properties have not been measured,” said physicist Bin Chen of the New Jersey Institute of Technology.
“With this study, we measured the details of the magnetic field of the current sheet for the first time, giving us insight into how solar flares occur.”
The Sun’s magnetic fields are extremely complex and erratic. Our star is a swirling turbulent ball of incredibly hot plasma, a liquid of charged particles that interacts strongly with electromagnetic forces.
Since the sun is a ball, the equatorial surface rotates faster than the poles. This causes the solar magnetic field to become entangled, which in turn can create very strong localized magnetic fields throughout the sun, creating sunspots from which plasma jets erupt.
In localized magnetic fields, lines of force can become disordered. At the heart of solar flares, opposite magnetic field lines connect, break, and reconnect. In addition, powerful current sheets stretch through these flare regions.
We know that magnetic reconnection results in the release of energy and the acceleration of electrons to relativistic velocities, but it has been difficult to pinpoint exactly how and where this happened in the structure.
The colossal solar flare X8.2 occurred on September 10, 2017. It was recorded at several wavelengths with the EOVSA telescope at the New Jersey Institute of Technology.
“The place where all energy is accumulated and released during solar flares has been invisible until now … In cosmological terms, this is the Sun’s ‘dark energy problem’, and previously we had to indirectly assume where its source is,” said EOVSA Director Dale Gary from the New Jersey Institute of Technology.
“EOVSA images taken at many microwave frequencies have shown that we can detect radio emissions to find this important region.”
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