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RAS PN 07/09 (NAM 05): SKELETON OF SUN'S ATMOSPHERE REVEALS ITS TRUE NATURE

Last Updated on Wednesday, 07 April 2010 18:33
Published on Monday, 16 April 2007 00:00
Scientists have made a major breakthrough in understanding the 'skeleton' of the Sun's magnetic field. A team of scientists from St. Andrew's University will present the results on Monday 16 April at the Royal Astronomical Society National Astronomy Meeting in Preston.

EMBARGOED FOR 00:01 BST, MONDAY 16 APRIL 2007
Ref.: PN 07/09 (NAM 05)

Issued by RAS Press Officers:

Robert Massey
Tel: +44 (0)20 7734 4582
Mobile: +44 (0)794 124 8035
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AND

Anita Heward
Tel: +44 (0)1483 420 904
Mobile: +44 (0)7756 034 243
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NATIONAL ASTRONOMY MEETING PRESS ROOM (16 - 20 APRIL ONLY):
Tel: +44 (0)1772 892 613
+44 (0)1772 892 475
+44 (0)1772 892 477


RAS National Astronomy Meeting web site:
http://nam2007.uclan.ac.uk


CONTACT DETAILS ARE LISTED AT THE END OF THIS RELEASE.


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SKELETON OF SUN'S ATMOSPHERE REVEALS ITS TRUE NATURE


The Sun's outer atmosphere or corona is incredibly complex, as shown in observations from space. It is also extremely hot, with a temperature of over a million degrees by comparison with that of the Sun's surface of only 6000 degrees. Scientists have now made a major breakthrough in understanding this complexity by studying the 'skeleton' of the magnetic field. A team of scientists from St Andrew's University will present the results on Monday 16 April at the Royal Astronomical Society National Astronomy Meeting in Preston. "It is the Sun's magnetic field that dominates the behaviour of the corona and determines its structure", said team member Andrew Haynes, "and our work is a key step forward in understanding its structure".


Until now the complexity of the magnetic field has baffled solar scientists. Professor Eric Priest first proposed the concept of the solar skeleton in 1996. It consists of the key elements on which the complex shape of the magnetic field is built. "We realised", added Dr Clare Parnell, "that by constructing the skeleton of the field, we could unravel this complexity and hopefully determine how the corona is heated".


Dr Parnell and colleagues have managed to develop a computer experiment, which simulates the complex structure of the corona and have found that the coronal heating is focused in specific parts of the skeleton. "In future", she added, "we should be able to compare this type of analysis with dramatic new observations from the recently launched Hinode spacecraft and thereby really nail down the heating mechanism".


The work of the St Andrew's team indicates that the solar skeleton changes continually and has a much richer structure than anyone imagined. Their work is a building block in astronomers' efforts to better understand events such as the solar flares and coronal mass ejections that eject billions of tonnes of matter into space.


CONTACT(s):


Dr Clare Parnell
School of Mathematics and Statistics
University of St. Andrews
Tel: +44 (0)1334 463706
E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


Dr Andrew Haynes
School of Mathematics and Statistics
University of St. Andrews
Tel: +44 (0)1334 463728
E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


From 16 to 20 April, Dr Parnell and Andrew Haynes can be contacted via the NAM press office (see above).


NOTES FOR EDITORS


The 2007 RAS National Astronomy Meeting is hosted by the University of Central Lancashire. It is sponsored by the Royal Astronomical Society and the UK Science and Technology Facilities Council.


This year the NAM is being held together with the UK Solar Physics (UKSP) and Magnetosphere, Ionosphere and Solar-Terrestrial (MIST) spring meetings. 2007 is International Heliophysical Year.

IMAGES:


These are available via the links below:


1. The complex magnetic field in the solar atmosphere. The particular field lines drawn are the ones likely to be heated and therefore observed on the Sun.
(http://www-solar.mcs.st-and.ac.uk/~clare/NAM07/parnell_haynes1.png)


2. Typical image of the solar corona clearly revealing the complex tangle of heated magnetic loops from TRACE (Image: NASA).
(http://www-solar.mcs.st-and.ac.uk/~clare/NAM07/parnell_haynes2.gif)


3. Simulated image of the interaction of a pair of magnetic fragments with opposite polarities. The yellow lines (regions) are the heating sites and the red and blue field lines show the magnetic skeleton.
(http://www-solar.mcs.st-and.ac.uk/~clare/NAM07/parnell_haynes3.png)