Nav: Home

The sun may have a dual personality, simulations suggest

June 11, 2019

Researchers at CU Boulder have discovered hints that humanity's favorite star may have a dual personality, with intriguing discrepancies in its magnetic fields that could hold clues to the sun's own "internal clock."

Physicists Loren Matilsky and Juri Toomre developed a computer simulation of the sun's interior as a means of capturing the inner roiling turmoil of the star. In the process, the team spotted something unexpected: On rare occasions, the sun's internal dynamics may jolt out of their normal routines and switch to an alternate state--bit like a superhero trading the cape and cowl for civilian clothes.

While the findings are only preliminary, Matilsky said, they may line up with real observations of the sun dating back to the 19th century.

He added that the existence of such a solar alter-ego could provide physicists with new clues to the processes that govern the sun's internal clock--a cycle in which the sun switches from periods of high activity to low activity about once every 11 years.

"We don't know what is setting the cycle period for the sun or why some cycles are more violent than others," said Matilsky, a graduate student at JILA. "Our ultimate goal is to map what we're seeing in the model to the sun's surface so that we can then make predictions."

He will present the team's findings at a press briefing today at the 234th meeting of the American Astronomical Society in St. Louis.

The study takes a deep look at a phenomenon that scientists call the solar "dynamo," essentially a concentration of the star's magnetic energy. This dynamo is formed by the spinning and twisting of the hot gases inside the sun and can have big impacts--an especially active solar dynamo can generate large numbers of sunspots and solar flares, or globs of energy that blast out from the surface.

But that dynamo isn't easy to study, Matilsky said. That's because it mainly forms and evolves within the sun's interior, far out of range of most scientific instruments.

"We can't dive into the interior, which makes the sun's internal magnetism a few steps removed from real observations," he said.

To get around that limitation, many solar physicists use massive supercomputers to try to recreate what's occurring inside the sun.

Matilsky and Toomre's simulation examines activity in the outer third of that interior, which Matilsky likens to "a spherical pot of boiling water."

And, he said, this model delivered some interesting results. When the researchers ran their simulation, they first found that the solar dynamo formed to the north and south of the sun's equator. Following a regular cycle, that dynamo moved toward the equator and stopped, then reset in close agreement with actual observations of the sun.

But that regular churn wasn't the whole picture. Roughly twice every 100 years, the simulated sun did something different.

In those strange cases, the solar dynamo didn't follow that same cycle but, instead, clustered in one hemisphere over the other.

"That additional dynamo cycle would kind of wander," Matilsky said. "It would stay in one hemisphere over a few cycles, then move into the other one. Eventually, the solar dynamo would return to its original state."

That pattern could be a fluke of the model, Matilsky said, but it might also point to real, and previously unknown, behavior of the solar dynamo. He added that astronomers have, on rare occasions, seen sun spots congregating in one hemisphere of the sun more than the other, an observation that matches the CU Boulder team's findings.

Matilsky said that the group will need to develop its model further to see if the dual dynamo pans out. But he said that the team's results could, one day, help to explain the cause of the peaks and dips in the sun's activity--patterns that have huge implications for climate and technological societies on Earth.

"It gives us clues to how the sun might shut off its dynamo and turn itself back on again," he said.
-end-


University of Colorado at Boulder

Related Energy Articles:

Wave energy researchers dive deep to advance clean energy source
One of the biggest untapped clean energy sources on the planet -- wave energy -- could one day power millions of homes across the US.
A new energy source within the cells
Scientists at the Centre for Genomic Regulation in Barcelona, Spain, find evidence of a new energy source within cell nucleus.
MIT Energy Initiative welcomes Exelon as member for clean energy research
MIT Energy Initiative announces that national energy provider Exelon joins MITEI as a member to focus research support through MITEI's Low-Carbon Energy Centers.
Clean energy from water
Fuel cells generate electrical energy through a chemical reaction of hydrogen and oxygen.
Determinant factors for energy consumption and perception of energy conservation clarified
Change in lifestyle is a key component to realizing a low-carbon society.
Lactate for brain energy
Nerve cells cover their high energy demand with glucose and lactate.
Evidence shows low energy sweeteners help reduce energy intake and body weight
Use of low energy sweeteners (LES) in place of sugar, in children and adults, leads to reduced calorie intake and body weight - and possibly also when comparing LES beverages to water -- according to a review led by researchers at the University of Bristol published in the International Journal of Obesity today.
ASU professor honored for work on energy and social aspects of energy policy
Martin 'Mike' Pasqualetti, an Arizona State University professor and an expert on energy and social components of energy development, will be awarded 2015 Alexander and Ilse Melamid Memorial Medal by the American Geographical Society.
Stanford's Global Climate and Energy Project awards $9.3 million for energy research
GCEP has awarded scientists at Stanford and four other universities funding to develop a suite of promising energy technologies.
Energy efficiency upgrades ease strain of high energy bills in low-income families
Low-income families bear the brunt of high-energy costs and poor thermal comfort from poorly maintained apartment buildings.

Related Energy Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Climate Crisis
There's no greater threat to humanity than climate change. What can we do to stop the worst consequences? This hour, TED speakers explore how we can save our planet and whether we can do it in time. Guests include climate activist Greta Thunberg, chemical engineer Jennifer Wilcox, research scientist Sean Davis, food innovator Bruce Friedrich, and psychologist Per Espen Stoknes.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#527 Honey I CRISPR'd the Kids
This week we're coming to you from Awesome Con in Washington, D.C. There, host Bethany Brookshire led a panel of three amazing guests to talk about the promise and perils of CRISPR, and what happens now that CRISPR babies have (maybe?) been born. Featuring science writer Tina Saey, molecular biologist Anne Simon, and bioethicist Alan Regenberg. A Nobel Prize winner argues banning CRISPR babies won’t work Geneticists push for a 5-year global ban on gene-edited babies A CRISPR spin-off causes unintended typos in DNA News of the first gene-edited babies ignited a firestorm The researcher who created CRISPR twins defends...