Nav: Home

Magnetic plasma pulses excited by UK-size swirls in the solar atmosphere

August 05, 2019

  • Research led by the University of Sheffield shows the first observational evidence that ubiquitous swirls in the solar atmosphere could generate short-lived Alfvén pulses
  • These Alfvén pulses have been found to be generated by prevalent photospheric plasma swirls the size of the UK
An international team of scientists led by the University of Sheffield have discovered previously undetected observational evidence of frequent energetic wave pulses the size of the UK, transporting energy from the solar surface to the higher solar atmosphere.

Magnetic plasma waves and pulses have been widely suggested as one of the key mechanisms which could answer the long-standing question of why the temperature of the solar atmosphere rises dramatically, from thousands to millions of degrees, as you move away from the solar surface.

There have been many theories put forward, including some developed at the University of Sheffield - for example, heating the plasma by magnetic waves or magnetic plasma - but observational validation of the ubiquity of a suitable energy transport mechanism has proved challenging until now.

By developing innovative approaches, applied mathematicians at the Solar Physics and Space Plasma Research Centre (SP2RC) in the School of Mathematics and Statistics at the University of Sheffield, and the University of Science and Technology of China, have discovered unique observational evidence of plentiful energetic wave pulses, named after the Nobel laureate Hannes Alfvén, in the solar atmosphere.

These short-lived Alfvén pulses have been found to be generated by prevalent photospheric plasma swirls about the size of the British Isles, which are suggested to have a population of at least 150,000 in the solar photosphere at any moment of time.

Professor Robertus Erdélyi (a.k.a. von Fáy-Siebenbürgen), Head of SP2RC, said: "Swirling motions are everywhere in the universe, from sinking water in domestic taps with a size of centimeters, to tornadoes on Earth and on the Sun, solar jets and spiral galaxies with a size of up to 520,000 light years. This work has shown, for the first time, the observational evidence that ubiquitous swirls in the solar atmosphere could generate short-lived Alfvén pulses.

"The generated Alfvén pulses easily penetrate the solar atmosphere along cylinder-like magnetic flux tubes, a form of magnetism a bit like trees in a forest. The pulses could travel all the way upward and reach the top of the solar chromospheric layers, or, even beyond."

Alfvén modes are currently very hard to observe directly, because they do not cause any local intensity concentrations or rarefactions as they make their journey through a magnetised plasma. They are hard to be observationally distinguished from some other types of magnetic plasma modes, like the well-known transversal magnetic plasma waves, often called kink modes.

"The energy flux carried by the Alfvén pulses we detected now are estimated to be more than 10 times higher than that needed for heating the local upper solar chromosphere," said Dr Jiajia Liu, postdoctoral research associate.

"The chromosphere is a relatively thin layer between the solar surface and the extremely hot corona. The solar chromosphere appears as a red ring around the Sun during total solar eclipses."

Professor Erdélyi added: "It has been a fascinating question for the scientific community for a long while - how the Sun and many other stars supply energy and mass to their upper atmospheres. Our results, as part of an exciting UK-China collaboration, involving our very best early-career scientists like Drs Jiajia Liu, Chris Nelson and Ben Snow, are an important step forward in addressing the supply of the needed non-thermal energy for solar and astrophysical plasma heating.

"We believe, these UK-sized photospheric magnetic plasma swirls are also very promising candidates not just for energy but also for mass transportation between the lower and upper layers of the solar atmosphere. Our future research with my colleagues at SP2RC will now focus on this new puzzle. "
The research, published in the journal Nature, involved postdoctoral researchers Drs Jiajia Liu and Chris Nelson from the University of Sheffield in collaboration with Dr Ben Snow, a former postdoctoral researcher at SP2RC, and Professor Yuming Wang from the University of Science and Technology of China.

Link to the research paper on the Nature Communications website:

University of Sheffield

Related Science Articles:

75 science societies urge the education department to base Title IX sexual harassment regulations on evidence and science
The American Educational Research Association (AERA) and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) today led 75 scientific societies in submitting comments on the US Department of Education's proposed changes to Title IX regulations.
Science/Science Careers' survey ranks top biotech, biopharma, and pharma employers
The Science and Science Careers' 2018 annual Top Employers Survey polled employees in the biotechnology, biopharmaceutical, pharmaceutical, and related industries to determine the 20 best employers in these industries as well as their driving characteristics.
Science in the palm of your hand: How citizen science transforms passive learners
Citizen science projects can engage even children who previously were not interested in science.
Applied science may yield more translational research publications than basic science
While translational research can happen at any stage of the research process, a recent investigation of behavioral and social science research awards granted by the NIH between 2008 and 2014 revealed that applied science yielded a higher volume of translational research publications than basic science, according to a study published May 9, 2018 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Xueying Han from the Science and Technology Policy Institute, USA, and colleagues.
Prominent academics, including Salk's Thomas Albright, call for more science in forensic science
Six scientists who recently served on the National Commission on Forensic Science are calling on the scientific community at large to advocate for increased research and financial support of forensic science as well as the introduction of empirical testing requirements to ensure the validity of outcomes.
World Science Forum 2017 Jordan issues Science for Peace Declaration
On behalf of the coordinating organizations responsible for delivering the World Science Forum Jordan, the concluding Science for Peace Declaration issued at the Dead Sea represents a global call for action to science and society to build a future that promises greater equality, security and opportunity for all, and in which science plays an increasingly prominent role as an enabler of fair and sustainable development.
PETA science group promotes animal-free science at society of toxicology conference
The PETA International Science Consortium Ltd. is presenting two posters on animal-free methods for testing inhalation toxicity at the 56th annual Society of Toxicology (SOT) meeting March 12 to 16, 2017, in Baltimore, Maryland.
Citizen Science in the Digital Age: Rhetoric, Science and Public Engagement
James Wynn's timely investigation highlights scientific studies grounded in publicly gathered data and probes the rhetoric these studies employ.
Science/Science Careers' survey ranks top biotech, pharma, and biopharma employers
The Science and Science Careers' 2016 annual Top Employers Survey polled employees in the biotechnology, biopharmaceutical, pharmaceutical, and related industries to determine the 20 best employers in these industries as well as their driving characteristics.
Three natural science professors win TJ Park Science Fellowship
Professor Jung-Min Kee (Department of Chemistry, UNIST), Professor Kyudong Choi (Department of Mathematical Sciences, UNIST), and Professor Kwanpyo Kim (Department of Physics, UNIST) are the recipients of the Cheong-Am (TJ Park) Science Fellowship of the year 2016.
More Science News and Science Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Listen Again: IRL Online
Original broadcast date: March 20, 2020. Our online lives are now entirely interwoven with our real lives. But the laws that govern real life don't apply online. This hour, TED speakers explore rules to navigate this vast virtual space.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#574 State of the Heart
This week we focus on heart disease, heart failure, what blood pressure is and why it's bad when it's high. Host Rachelle Saunders talks with physician, clinical researcher, and writer Haider Warraich about his book "State of the Heart: Exploring the History, Science, and Future of Cardiac Disease" and the ails of our hearts.
Now Playing: Radiolab

There are so many ways to fall–in love, asleep, even flat on your face. This hour, Radiolab dives into stories of great falls.  We jump into a black hole, take a trip over Niagara Falls, upend some myths about falling cats, and plunge into our favorite songs about falling. Support Radiolab by becoming a member today at