[ Back to EurekAlert! ] Public release date: 11-Jul-2013
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Contact: Clare Ryan
clare.ryan@ucl.ac.uk
44-020-310-83846
University College London

Solar tsunami used to measure Sun's magnetic field

A solar tsunami observed by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) and the Japanese Hinode spacecraft has been used to provide the first accurate estimates of the Sun's magnetic field.

Solar tsunamis are produced by enormous explosions in the Sun's atmosphere called coronal mass ejections (CMEs). As the CME travels out into space, the tsunami travels across the Sun at speeds of up to 1000 kilometres per second.

Similar to tsunamis on Earth, the shape of solar tsunamis is changed by the environment through which they move. Just as sound travels faster in water than in air, solar tsunamis have a higher speed in regions of stronger magnetic field. This unique feature allowed the team, led by researchers from UCL's Mullard Space Science Laboratory, to measure the Sun's magnetic field. The results are outlined in a paper soon to be published in the journal Solar Physics.

Dr David Long, UCL Mullard Space Science Laboratory, and lead author of the research, said: "We've demonstrated that the Sun's atmosphere has a magnetic field about ten times weaker than a normal fridge magnet."

Using data obtained using the Extreme ultraviolet Imaging Spectrometer (EIS), a UK-led instrument on the Japanese Hinode spacecraft, the team measured the density of the solar atmosphere through which the tsunami was travelling.

The combination of imaging and spectral observations provides a rare opportunity to examine the magnetic field which permeates the Sun's atmosphere.

Dr Long noted: "These are rare observations of a spectacular event that reveal some really interesting details about our nearest star."

Visible as loops and other structures in the Sun's atmosphere, the Sun's magnetic field is difficult to measure directly and usually has to be estimated using intensive computer simulations. The Hinode spacecraft has three highly sensitive telescopes, which use visible, X-ray and ultraviolet light to examine both slow and rapid changes in the magnetic field.

The instruments on Hinode act like a microscope to track how the magnetic field around sunspots is generated, shapes itself, and then fades away. These results show just how sensitive these instruments can be, measuring magnetic fields that were previously thought too weak to detect. The explosions that produce solar tsunamis can send CMEs hurtling towards the Earth. Although protected by its own magnetic field, the Earth is vulnerable to these solar storms as they can adversely affect satellites and technological infrastructure.

Dr Long said: "As our dependency on technology increases, understanding how these eruptions occur and travel will greatly assist in protecting against solar activity."

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Notes for Editors

1. For more information or to speak to Dr David Long, please contact Clare Ryan in the UCL Media Relations Office on tel: +44 (0)20 3108 3846, mobile: +44 07747 556 056, out of hours +44 (0)7917 271 364, e-mail: clare.ryan@ucl.ac.uk

2. A three-colour difference movie of a solar eruption from 12 June 2010 described in the research is available from UCL Media Relations.

3. 'Measuring the Magnetic Field Strength of the Quiet Solar Corona Using "EIT Waves" is soon to be published in the journal Solar Physics. For copies of the paper please contact UCL Media Relations or download a preprint from the arxiv server: http://arxiv.org/abs/1305.5169

About UCL (University College London)

Founded in 1826, UCL was the first English university established after Oxford and Cambridge, the first to admit students regardless of race, class, religion or gender and the first to provide systematic teaching of law, architecture and medicine. We are among the world's top universities, as reflected by our performance in a range of international rankings and tables. According to the Thomson Scientific Citation Index, UCL is the second most highly cited European university and the 15th most highly cited in the world. UCL has nearly 25,000 students from 150 countries and more than 9,000 employees, of whom one third are from outside the UK. The university is based in Bloomsbury in the heart of London, but also has two international campuses UCL Australia and UCL Qatar. Our annual income is more than 800 million. http://www.ucl.ac.uk | Follow us on Twitter @uclnews | Watch our YouTube channel YouTube.com/UCLTV



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