YOU ARE HERE: Home > News & Press > Shining a light on solar energetic particles and jets

I want information on:

Information for:

NEWS & PRESS

Shining a light on solar energetic particles and jets

Last Updated on Tuesday, 04 July 2017 12:03
Published on Monday, 03 July 2017 16:28

A team of astronomers, led by PhD researcher Malcolm Druett of Northumbria University at Newcastle, have taken a big step forward in understanding a 30-year-old mystery in the process of formation of solar flares. Druett will present their work on Monday 3 July at the National Astronomy Meeting in Hull, and the research appears in a paper in Nature Communications on the same day.

 

Scientists study the Sun with a variety of techniques, including looking at the so-called H-alpha line in the solar spectrum, associated with hydrogen gas that makes up the bulk of the mass of our nearest star. The observed wavelength of this line changes as a result of the Doppler effect, where light emitted from gas is slightly bluer if the gas is moving towards us (blueshifted) and slightly redder if it is moving away from us (redshifted).

thumb FlareOverviewA context image of the Sun during a flare. The active region is highlighted by the green box. Credit: M. Druett et al. / Swedish Solar Telescope (SST). Click for a larger image

 

The team looked at solar flares, large explosions on the surface of the Sun, which can be associated with the eruption of large amounts of matter, sometimes headed towards the Earth. These coronal mass ejections can cause adverse ‘space weather’, disrupting communications and even electrical power supplies. The H-alpha emission associated with solar flares when observed from the ground is seen to be strongly redshifted, implying a high speed of 50-55 km/s for the flare material. In contrast, when observed by space probes such as the Solar Dynamics Observatory, the emission is seen blue-shifted with velocities up to 100 km/s.

 

Druett, supervised by Prof Valentina Zharkova and in collaboration with Dr Eamon Scullion, both also at Northumbria University at Newcastle, have for the first time created a model to explain this effect. The approach uses radiative transfer (transfer of electromagnetic radiation, including visible light) and hydrodynamic modelling (understanding fluid flow).

 

Druett and his team found that short (10 second) injections of super-energetic electrons, so-called solar energetic particles (SEPs) could be responsible for the H-alpha emission. Their work explains the redshift in H-alpha, and the formation of flares, and will help forecasters predict adverse space weather events, allowing agencies on Earth to take action to protect systems before it hits.

 

Prof Zharkova said: “Solar flares are magnificent energetic phenomena releasing huge amounts of energy in the form of particles, radiation, coronal mass ejections and interplanetary shocks into the atmospheres of all the planets, including the Earth.”

AIAJetImage of the jet (blue arrow) emerging from the observed footpoint (red contour). The structures also agreed with the model predictions for hotter upflowing material in terms of temperature, velocity and timing. Credit: M. Druett et al. / Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO). Click for a larger image

“A greater understanding of how a solar flare can occur and how much energy they eject out of the Sun and heliosphere is a major priority for the space industry and space weather forecasts. Our paper sheds significant light on the main factors, which are able to account for the observations associated with these phenomena both in the Sun and in the heliosphere.”

 

The team now hope that the research will advance the whole field of solar flare dynamics, allowing a better understanding of the process of flare formation and disruptive space weather.

 


Media contacts

 

NAM press office (Monday 3 – Thursday 6 July)

Tel: +44 (0)1482 467507 / (0)1482 467508

 

Robert Massey

Royal Astronomical Society

Mob: +44 (0)7802 877699

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  

 

Anita Heward

Royal Astronomical Society

Mob: +44 (0)7756 034243

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  

 

Morgan Hollis

Royal Astronomical Society

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  

 


Science contacts

 

Malcolm Druett

Northumbria University at Newcastle

Mob: +44 (0)7725 252531

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  

 

Valentina Zharkova

Northumbria University at Newcastle

Mob: +44 (0)7803 730134

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  

 


Images and captions

 

Image of the flare ribbons in H-alpha (bright, white, ribbon-shaped areas). An overlying, twisted loop structure connecting the ribbons appears as a dark arch. The Sun's granulated surface can be seen in the background. Credit: M. Druett et al. / Swedish Solar Telescope (SST)

 

A context image of the Sun during a flare. The active region is highlighted by the green box. Credit: M. Druett et al. / Swedish Solar Telescope (SST)

 

Image of the jet (blue arrow) emerging from the observed footpoint (red contour). The structures also agreed with the model predictions for hotter upflowing material in terms of temperature, velocity and timing. Credit: M. Druett et al. / Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO)

 


Further information

 

The new work appears in “Beam electrons as a source of Hα flare ribbons”, Malcolm Druett, Eamon Scullion, Valentina Zharkova, Sarah Matthews, Sergei Zharkov, and Luc Rouppe Van der Voort, Nature Communications 8, 2017.

A copy of the paper is available from https://www.nature.com/articles/ncomms15905

  

As well as Prof Zharkova and her colleagues at Northumbria, a number of other international academics and researchers collaborated on this discovery. These included Dr Sarah Matthews (Mullard Space Science Laboratory/University College London), a specialist in solar flare investigation, Dr Sergei Zharkov (Department of Physics and Mathematics, Hull University), a specialist in helioseismology, white light and magnetic field variations in solar flares, and Dr Luc Rouppe Van der Voort  (Institute of Theoretical Astrophysics, University of Oslo, Norway), a SST developer and observer. This was a dream team, whose joint efforts made this research successful in resolving the puzzle of the past three decades.

 


Notes for editors

 

Running from 2 to 6 July, the RAS National Astronomy Meeting 2017 (NAM 2017, http://nam2017.org) takes place this year at the University of Hull. NAM 2017 will bring together around 500 space scientists and astronomers to discuss the latest research in their respective fields. The conference is principally sponsored by the Royal Astronomical Society and the Science and Technology Facilities Council.

T: http://twitter.com/rasnam2017

 

The Royal Astronomical Society (RAS, www.ras.org.uk), founded in 1820, encourages and promotes the study of astronomy, solar-system science, geophysics and closely related branches of science. The RAS organises scientific meetings, publishes international research and review journals, recognizes outstanding achievements by the award of medals and prizes, maintains an extensive library, supports education through grants and outreach activities and represents UK astronomy nationally and internationally. Its more than 4000 members (Fellows), a third based overseas, include scientific researchers in universities, observatories and laboratories as well as historians of astronomy and others.

T: https://twitter.com/royalastrosoc

F: https://facebook.com/royalastrosoc

 

The Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC, www.stfc.ac.uk) is keeping the UK at the forefront of international science and has a broad science portfolio and works with the academic and industrial communities to share its expertise in materials science, space and ground-based astronomy technologies, laser science, microelectronics, wafer scale manufacturing, particle and nuclear physics, alternative energy production, radio communications and radar. 

STFC's Astronomy and Space Science programme provides support for a wide range of facilities, research groups and individuals in order to investigate some of the highest priority questions in astrophysics, cosmology and solar system science. STFC's astronomy and space science programme is delivered through grant funding for research activities, and also through support of technical activities at STFC's UK Astronomy Technology Centre and RAL Space at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory. STFC also supports UK astronomy through the international European Southern Observatory.

T: https://twitter.com/stfc_matters

 

Northumbria is a specialist in Solar Physics (https://www.northumbria.ac.uk/sun) and in the multidisciplinary research theme Extreme Environments. Academics working in this area explore research questions in environments where life is under threat from the most extreme conditions, from the ice of Antarctica to the surface of the sun. Northumbria offers a range of courses in Mathematics, Physics and Electrical Engineering. To find out more about studying at the University go to www.northumbria.ac.uk or sign up for one of our upcoming Open Days.