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Magnetic loops on the Sun

Our mathematicians are helping to unravel the knotty problem of how solar energy is injected into the Sun’s atmosphere before being released into space.

The release of this energy causes space weather events and scientists have long-debated how this happens.

Now a team of researchers including Durham University has devised a new approach to analysing how the magnetic tangles of the Sun develop.

Their research indicates that pre-twisted magnetic fields rise up from the Sun’s convection zone, which could lead to events such as solar flares.

Solar activity

Researchers generally agree that solar activity is caused by instabilities in giant twists of magnetic ropes threading the visible surface of the Sun, known as the photosphere.

But how these tangles form has been the subject of much discussion.

One of two dominant theories suggests that coils of field lines emerge through the photosphere from the Sun’s convection zone below.

The other theory suggests that the feet of arching field lines wrap around each other on the Sun’s surface and create braids.

Both could theoretically produce effects like sunspot rotation and dramatic solar flares, but neither theory has been conclusively supported through observational data.

Magnetic winding

The team came up with a new way to exactly measure the entanglement of the magnetic field.

They tracked the rotation of field lines at the points where they intersect with the photosphere – called magnetic winding.

The researchers studied the magnetic winding for ten active regions of the Sun. In every case, the results matched the theory of pre-twisted magnetic field lines rising up from the convection zone.

The team now hopes that magnetic winding will be used by scientists to interpret the Sun’s magnetic field structure seen in their observations.

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Main image credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/SDO.