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Puffing Sun gives birth to reluctant eruption

Last Updated on Thursday, 26 June 2014 14:21
Published on Friday, 20 June 2014 17:12

A suite of Sun-gazing spacecraft, SOHO, STEREO and Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), have spotted an unusual series of eruptions in which a series of fast 'puffs' force the slow ejection of a massive burst of plasma from the Sun's corona. The eruptions took place over a period of three days, starting on 17 January 2013. Images and animations of the phenomena will be presented at the National Astronomy Meeting 2014 in Portsmouth by Nathalia Alzate on Monday 23 June.


Alzate Lasco1The Sun's outermost layer, the corona, is a magnetised plasma that has a temperature of millions of degrees and extends millions of kilometres into space. The LASCO C2 coronagraph aboard the SOHO spacecraft observed puffs emanating from the base of the corona and rapidly exploding outwards into interplanetary space. The puffs occurred approximately once every three hours; after about 12 hours, a much larger eruption of material began, apparently eased out by the smaller-scale explosions. By looking at high-resolution images taken by SDO and STEREO over the same time period and in different wavelengths, Alzate and her colleagues at the University of Aberystwyth were able to focus down on the cause of the puffs and the interaction between the small and large-scale eruptions.

"Looking at the corona in Extreme UltraViolet light we see the source of the puffs is a series of energetic jets and related flares," explained Alzate. "The jets are localised, catastrophic releases of energy that spew material out from the Sun into space. These rapid changes in the magnetic field cause flares, which release a huge amount of energy in a very short time in the form of super-heated plasma, high-energy radiation and radio bursts. The big, slow structure is reluctant to erupt, and does not begin to smoothly propagate outwards until several jets have occurred."


Alzate Lasco2Because the events were observed by multiple spacecraft, each viewing the Sun from a different perspective, Alzate and her colleagues were able to resolve the 3D configuration of the eruptions. This allowed them to estimate the forces acting on the slow eruption and discuss possible mechanisms for the interaction between the slow and fast phenomena.

"We still need to understand whether there are shock waves, formed by the jets, passing through and driving the slow eruption, or whether magnetic reconfiguration is driving the jets allowing the larger, slow structure to slowly erupt. Thanks to recent advances in observation and in image processing techniques we can throw light on the way jets can lead to small and fast, and/or large and slow, eruptions from the Sun," said Alzate.

 

Alzate Lasco3Media contacts

NAM 2014 press office landlines: +44 (0) 02392 845176, +44 (0)2392 845177, +44 (0)2392 845178

Anita Heward
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Dr Robert Massey
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Science contacts

Nathalia Alzate
Institute of Maths, Physics & Computer Science (IMPACS)
Aberystwyth University
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Dr Huw Morgan
Institute of Maths, Physics & Computer Science (IMPACS)
Aberystwyth University
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Image, animations and captions

Movie: https://www.ras.org.uk/images/stories/NAM/2014/Alzate/lasco.gif
Still images:
https://www.ras.org.uk/images/stories/NAM/2014/Alzate/Alzate_Lasco1.jpg
https://www.ras.org.uk/images/stories/NAM/2014/Alzate/Alzate_Lasco2.jpg
https://www.ras.org.uk/images/stories/NAM/2014/Alzate/Alzate_Lasco3.jpg
Puffs emanating from the base of the corona explode outwards into interplanetary space, driving a larger, reluctant eruption of magnetized plasma. The sequence was observed by the LASCO C2 coronagraph aboard the SOHO spacecraft. Credit: SOHO/LASCO/U. Aberystwyth

Movie: https://www.ras.org.uk/images/stories/NAM/2014/Alzate/sdo_rgb_171-193-211.gif
Still image: https://www.ras.org.uk/images/stories/NAM/2014/Alzate/Alzate_SDO_rgb.jpg
One of the multiple jets that lead to the coronal 'puffs', observed by the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO). This movie has three channels - red, green and blue, corresponding to three coronal temperature regimes ranging from ~0.8Mk to 2MK. Credit: SDO/U. Aberystwyth

Movie: https://www.ras.org.uk/images/stories/NAM/2014/Alzate/sdo_304_jet-like-event_jan-18.gif
Still image: https://www.ras.org.uk/images/stories/NAM/2014/Alzate/Alzate_SDO_304.jpg
A typical jet is seen more clearly in this movie, which shows plasma at a cooler temperature of ~0.1MK. Credit: SDO/U. Aberystwyth

Movie: https://www.ras.org.uk/images/stories/NAM/2014/Alzate/euvi_195_jet-like-event_jan-18.gif
Still image: https://www.ras.org.uk/images/stories/NAM/2014/Alzate/Alzate_euvi_195.jpg
The same jet as in the previous movies, this time viewed by the Extreme Ultra-Violet Imager (EUVI) onboard the STEREO mission. The combination of the two viewpoints enables a good idea of the 3D configuration of the events. Credit: STEREO/U. Aberystwyth

 

Notes for editors

The RAS National Astronomy Meeting (NAM 2014) will bring together more than 600 astronomers, space scientists and solar physicists for a conference running from 23 to 26 June in Portsmouth. NAM 2014, the largest regular professional astronomy event in the UK, will be held in conjunction with the UK Solar Physics (UKSP), Magnetosphere Ionosphere Solar-Terrestrial physics (MIST) and UK Cosmology (UKCosmo) meetings. The conference is principally sponsored by the Royal Astronomical Society (RAS), the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) and the University of Portsmouth. Meeting arrangements and a full and up to date schedule of the scientific programme can be found on the official website and via Twitter.

The University of Portsmouth is a top-ranking university in a student-friendly waterfront city. It's in the top 50 universities in the UK, in The Guardian University Guide League Table 2014 and is ranked in the top 400 universities in the world, in the most recent Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2013. Research at the University of Portsmouth is varied and wide ranging, from pure science – such as the evolution of galaxies and the study of stem cells – to the most technologically applied subjects – such as computer games design. Our researchers collaborate with colleagues worldwide, and with the public, to develop new insights and make a difference to people's lives. Follow the University of Portsmouth on Twitter.

The Royal Astronomical Society (RAS), 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 3800 members (Fellows), a third based overseas, include scientific researchers in universities, observatories and laboratories as well as historians of astronomy and others. Follow the RAS on Twitter.

The Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) is keeping the UK at the forefront of international science and tackling some of the most significant challenges facing society such as meeting our future energy needs, monitoring and understanding climate change, and global security. The Council 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. It enables UK researchers to access leading international science facilities for example in the area of astronomy, the European Southern Observatory. Follow STFC on Twitter.