Secrets of solar flares can now be studied on Earth

April 25, 2018, Chalmers University of Technology
Solar flares are caused by magnetic reconnection in space and can interfere with our communications satellites, affecting power grids, air traffic and telephony. Now, researchers at Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden, have found a new way to imitate and study these spectacular space plasma phenomena in a laboratory environment. Credit: NASA/SDO/AIA/Goddard Space Flight Center

Solar flares, cosmic radiation, and the northern lights are well known phenomena. But exactly how their enormous energy arises is not as well understood. Now, physicists at Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden, have discovered a new way to study these spectacular space plasma phenomena in a laboratory environment. The results have been published in the renowned journal Nature Communications.

"Scientists have been trying to bring these space down to earth for a decade. With our new method we can enter a new era, and investigate what was previously impossible to study. It will tell us more about how these events occur," says Longqing Yi, researcher at the Department of Physics at Chalmers.

The research concerns so-called 'magnetic reconnection' – the process which gives rise to these phenomena. Magnetic reconnection causes sudden conversion of energy stored in the magnetic field into heat and kinetic energy. This happens when two plasmas with anti-parallel magnetic fields are pushed together, and the converge and reconnect. This interaction leads to violently accelerated particles that can sometimes be seen with the naked eye – for example, during the .

Magnetic reconnection in space can also influence us on earth. The creation of solar flares can interfere with communications satellites, and thus affect power grids, air traffic and telephony.

In order to imitate and study these spectacular space plasma phenomena in the laboratory, you need a high-power laser, to create magnetic fields around a million times stronger than those found on the surface of the sun. In the new scientific article, Longqing Yi, along with Professor Tünde Fülöp from the Department of Physics, proposed an experiment in which magnetic reconnection can be studied in a new, more precise way. Through the use of grazing incidence of , the effect can be achieved without overheating the plasma. The process can thus be studied very cleanly, without the laser directly affecting the internal energy of the plasma.

The picture shows the experiment setup. The laser (the red triangle on the right) hits the micro-scale film (the grey slab), which splits the beam like a knife. Electrons accelerate on both sides of the ‘knife’ and produce strong currents, along with extremely strong, anti-parallel magnetic fields. Magnetic reconnection occurs beyond the end of the film (the blue frame). The magnetic field is illustrated with black arrows. The boomerang-like structures illustrate the electrons in the different stages of the simulation. The rainbow colours represent the electrons’ transverse momenta. Credit: Longqing Yi

The proposed experiment would therefore allow us to seek answers to some of the most fundamental questions in astrophysics.

"We hope that this can inspire many research groups to use our results. This is a great opportunity to look for knowledge that could be useful in a number of areas. For example, we need to better understand , which can interfere with important communication systems. We also need to be able to control the instabilities caused by in fusion devices," says Tünde Fülöp.

The study on which the new results are based was financed by the Knut and Alice Wallenberg foundation, through the framework of the project 'Plasma-based Compact Ion Sources', and the ERC project 'Skena och skina' (Running away and radiating).

Explore further: Plasma bubbles help trigger massive magnetic events in outer space

More information: Longqing Yi et al. Relativistic magnetic reconnection driven by a laser interacting with a micro-scale plasma slab, Nature Communications (2018). DOI: 10.1038/s41467-018-04065-3

Related Stories

Team produces unique simulation of magnetic reconnection

September 8, 2017

Jonathan Ng, a Princeton University graduate student at the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL), has for the first time applied a fluid simulation to the space plasma process behind ...

Powerful new device for studying puzzling process

March 15, 2018

A millisecond burst of light on a computer monitor signaled production of the first plasma in a powerful new device for advancing research into magnetic reconnection—a critical but little understood process that occurs ...

Studying magnetic space explosions with NASA missions

March 9, 2017

Every day, invisible magnetic explosions are happening around Earth, on the surface of the sun and across the universe. These explosions, known as magnetic reconnection, occur when magnetic field lines cross, releasing stored ...

Recommended for you

New study explores cell mechanics at work

June 19, 2018

It's a remarkable choreography. In each of our bodies, more than 37 trillion cells tightly coordinate with other cells to organize into the numerous tissues and organs that make us tick.

The secret to measuring the energy of an antineutrino

June 18, 2018

Scientists study tiny particles called neutrinos to learn about how our universe evolved. These particles, well-known for being tough to detect, could tell the story of how matter won out over antimatter a fraction of a second ...

New form of matter may lie just beyond the periodic table

June 15, 2018

Currently, the heaviest element on the periodic table is oganesson, which has an atomic mass of 294 and was officially named in 2016. Like every element on the periodic table, nearly all of oganesson's mass comes from protons ...

A new experiment to understand dark matter

June 15, 2018

Is dark matter a source of a yet unknown force in addition to gravity? The mysterious dark matter is little understood and trying to understand its properties is an important challenge in modern physics and astrophysics. ...

29 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

barakn
5 / 5 (5) Apr 25, 2018
Studying magnetic reconnection directly in the lab. It's an EU nutter's worst nightmare.
cantdrive85
1 / 5 (3) Apr 25, 2018
"Magnetic reconnection is pseudoscience" Hannes Alfvén

cantdrive85
1 / 5 (3) Apr 25, 2018
Such as this;
This happens when two plasmas with anti-parallel magnetic fields are pushed together, and the magnetic field lines converge and reconnect.

barakn
5 / 5 (5) Apr 26, 2018
Have any sort of argument against magnetic reconnection that isn't an appeal to authority? I'm not sure you are aware that this considered a logical fallacy.
Da Schneib
5 / 5 (3) Apr 26, 2018
@barakn, a couple of things to bolster your arguments.

First, MRx at Princeton has been studying magnetic reconnection in the lab for about a decade now. @cantthink69 spouts conspiracy theories when faced with this reality.

Second, appeal to authority is not necessarily a fallacy; it's appeal to illegitimate authority that's the fallacy. For example, appeal to the authority of Eclectic Universe nutjobs.
jonesdave
5 / 5 (4) Apr 26, 2018
"Magnetic reconnection is pseudoscience" Hannes Alfvén



'No, it isn't.' Carl-Gunne Falthammar. Who had a lot more data on it than Alfven ever did. Alfie just backed the wrong horse. He was wrong. Get over it.
jonesdave
5 / 5 (2) Apr 26, 2018
First, MRx at Princeton has been studying magnetic reconnection in the lab for about a decade now. @cantthink69 spouts conspiracy theories when faced with this reality.


Over two decades now. It started in 1995, I believe (the year Alfven died!). Here is one of the early papers from their experiments:

Study of Driven Magnetic Reconnection in a Laboratory Plasma
Yamada, M. et al.
https://www.osti....l/304145
cantdrive85
1 / 5 (1) Apr 26, 2018
MRx has become dogma, even Falthammar acknowledges that fact.
http://adsabs.har...44...85H
Falthammar even wrote a paper on the pitfalls of using the moving field lines, apparently the above pseudoscientists didn't get the memo.
cantdrive85
1 / 5 (1) Apr 26, 2018
Why MRx is pseudoscience;
https://www.ann-g...65/2017/
Nothing has changed in many years, MRx remains pseudoscientific claptrap.
jonesdave
5 / 5 (2) Apr 26, 2018
MRx has become dogma, even Falthammar acknowledges that fact.
http://adsabs.har...44...85H
Falthammar even wrote a paper on the pitfalls of using the moving field lines, apparently the above pseudoscientists didn't get the memo.


That paper is by Heikkila, and is from 1988! And, yes, Falthammar did write a short paper with Mozer (another fan of reconnection) about moving field lines. In that paper he said, and I quote:

The first kind of problem is that the construct of moving field lines is sometimes used to produce the incorrect magnetic field evolution in cases where equation (2) is not satisfied. In fact, the most interesting plasma physics occurs pre­cisely where and because this equation is not satisfied, such as the auroral acceleration region, ***magnetic field reconnection***, turbu­lence, shocks, and many wave modes.


My emphasis for the hard of reading.

https://agupubs.o...EO150002
jonesdave
5 / 5 (2) Apr 26, 2018
Why MRx is pseudoscience;
https://www.ann-g...65/2017/
Nothing has changed in many years, MRx remains pseudoscientific claptrap.


Lol. One ageing Alfven adherent writes a paper that has never been cited, and that is a reason for the thousands of plasma physicists to just down tools and disregard all the evidence in favour of it from in-situ and lab experiment? Sorry, not happening. Alfven was just plain wrong.
cantdrive85
1 / 5 (2) Apr 26, 2018
One ageing Alfven adherent writes a paper that has never been cited, and that is a reason for the thousands of plasma physicists to just down tools and disregard all the evidence in favour of it from in-situ and lab experiment?

Nope, they just need to refrain from pseudoscience and the wrong models. Circuit theory must be used to describe the phenomena as that is how plasma operates, not the magic of moving and reconnecting field lines.
cantdrive85
1 / 5 (1) Apr 26, 2018
Amusingly jonesdumb has no issues with these types of lab experiments despite the fact there are neither lasers nor microfilm objects in space plasmas.
jonesdave
5 / 5 (2) Apr 26, 2018
One ageing Alfven adherent writes a paper that has never been cited, and that is a reason for the thousands of plasma physicists to just down tools and disregard all the evidence in favour of it from in-situ and lab experiment?

Nope, they just need to refrain from pseudoscience and the wrong models. Circuit theory must be used to describe the phenomena as that is how plasma operates, not the magic of moving and reconnecting field lines.


What would you know? Plasma really isn't your strong point, is it? All you do is parrot decades old stuff from Alfven, that even his closest colleague no longer believes. And hasn't done for a long while, even while Alfven was alive. And Akasofu knows that reconnection happens, he is just looking at whether it is an inside-out or outside-in phenomenon. The fact that reconnection happens is not under question. I know of no plasma physicist still publishing who denies the reality of MRx. Only a bunch of unqualified mythologists.
jonesdave
5 / 5 (2) Apr 26, 2018
Amusingly jonesdumb has no issues with these types of lab experiments despite the fact there are neither lasers nor microfilm objects in space plasmas.


It's a hell of a lot closer to the observed, in-situ reality (Themis, Cluster, MMS), than the drivel you peddle. And a lot closer to reality than putting a squillion volts through a metal sphere to model the Sun!
cantdrive85
1 / 5 (1) Apr 26, 2018
Akasofu knows that reconnection happens, he is just looking at whether it is an inside-out or outside-in phenomenon. The fact that reconnection happens is not under question.

Where did I say it doesn't happen? The fact that the plasma ignoramuses use pseudoscientific claptrap to describe it doesn't mean explosive events don't occur.
jonesdave
5 / 5 (2) Apr 26, 2018
Where did I say it doesn't happen?


What? Every f***ing story that mentions magnetic reconnection, you are on here posting that Alfven says it's pseudoscience! So, now you're saying it does happen? Great. Nothing else to discuss is there?
barakn
5 / 5 (2) Apr 26, 2018
Second, appeal to authority is not necessarily a fallacy; it's appeal to illegitimate authority that's the fallacy. For example, appeal to the authority of Eclectic Universe nutjobs.

Alfven is not a "nutjob" nor an "illegitimate authority." I could appeal to Einstein on the cosmological constant as paraphrased by Gamow - "biggest blunder of his life" - and yet the cosmological constant and time-dependent variations of it have been revived in explanations of Dark Energy. Einstein is not a "nutjob" nor an "illegitimate authority" and yet he appears to have been wrong - it really wasn't his biggest blunder. Any appeal to authority, even if that authority happens to be right, is inherently a weak argument.
cantdrive85
1 / 5 (1) Apr 26, 2018
Every f***ing story that mentions magnetic reconnection, you are on here posting that Alfven says it's pseudoscience! So, now you're saying it does happen?

Nobody ever discounted the explosive events moron. Saying that the plasma ignoramuses are using pseudoscientific claptrap to explain this process is not saying it doesn't exist. Because MRx has become dogma the erroneous label will likely stick, even Falthammar acknowledges this, but it is an anti-science attempt to ignore that which Alfvén described long ago.
jonesdave
5 / 5 (1) Apr 26, 2018
Because MRx has become dogma the erroneous label will likely stick, even Falthammar acknowledges this, but it is an anti-science attempt to ignore that which Alfvén described long ago.


No, it isn't, and Falthammar has never said any such thing. Quit the lying.
cantdrive85
1 / 5 (1) Apr 26, 2018
Any appeal to authority, even if that authority happens to be right, is inherently a weak argument.

So to is the appeal to the authority of "thousands of plasma physicists". Science is neither democratic nor a popularity contest.
And a lot closer to reality than putting a squillion volts through a metal sphere to model the Sun!

You have never addressed Birkeland and his terella experiments and how he used it to discover a process to explain auroras. He explained the auroras are created by cathode rays and flying electric ions, which has since been confirmed. Those very same processes he explains that create these phenomena require electric discharge. It is the only way to explain his theory, these processes cannot be recreated any other way, unless of course you want to point to magic like you typically do.
jonesdave
5 / 5 (2) Apr 26, 2018
You have never addressed Birkeland and his terella experiments....


Why would I need to? It was a hundred frigging years ago! We know, due to technology that Birkeland could only dream of, that the Sun isn't a metal ball powered by electricity! There is no current. There isn't even a valid bloody hypothesis.
cantdrive85
1 / 5 (1) Apr 26, 2018
There isn't even a valid bloody hypothesis.

You are suggesting Birkeland didn't offer a mechanism to explain the auroras which was later confirmed and a plasma phenomena called a Birkeland current (named after him) doesn't exist? LOL! Another day, another new display of acolytic moronism.
jonesdave
not rated yet Apr 26, 2018
There isn't even a valid bloody hypothesis.

You are suggesting Birkeland didn't offer a mechanism to explain the auroras which was later confirmed and a plasma phenomena called a Birkeland current (named after him) doesn't exist? LOL! Another day, another new display of acolytic moronism.


I was talking about your idiotic electric sun nonsense.
cantdrive85
1 / 5 (1) Apr 26, 2018
So since there "isn't even a valid bloody hypothesis" (hand wavy claim) it can't be electric? So before Zwicky invented DM it didn't exist? Sounds like a moronic statement. If you want to find something you have to look for it, with the resolution to be usable. Look for it as rigorously as you're looking for DM and you'll find the electric currents first.
jonesdave
not rated yet Apr 26, 2018
So since there "isn't even a valid bloody hypothesis" (hand wavy claim) it can't be electric? So before Zwicky invented DM it didn't exist? Sounds like a moronic statement. If you want to find something you have to look for it, with the resolution to be usable. Look for it as rigorously as you're looking for DM and you'll find the electric currents first.


No we won't. They'd be bleeding obvious to any number of spacecraft over the past few decades. They ain't there, and there is no valid hypothesis for how they could create a star. It is pure woo, dreamed up by people who haven't got a clue.
cantdrive85
1 / 5 (1) Apr 26, 2018
What would be "bleeding obvious"? You don't even understand what your looking for nor have the resolution to detect it.
jonesdave
not rated yet Apr 26, 2018
What would be "bleeding obvious"? You don't even understand what your looking for nor have the resolution to detect it.


Errr, a current? That would be electrons, yes? Heading in towards the Sun? Guess what we have spacecraft monitoring 24/7? There is nothing there. I've heard the idiot Scott's feeble excuse that they are only drifting in. Pathetic. The velocity of the electrons is irrelevant. It is the relative velocity between the spacecraft and the electrons that counts. So, a motionless electron will hit a detector at say 10 km/s if that is the spacecraft velocity. Is that detectable? Too bloody right it is.
Go do some maths. Let's say 1 m/s for the non-existent electrons. What energy does that impart, after it's fought its way past the outgoing solar wind and IMF? What is the energy output of the Sun per sec? How many electrons do you need? Any chance of getting a radio signal through that little lot? Sorry, it's nonsense. Purely for the wooists.
cantdrive85
1 / 5 (1) Apr 28, 2018
I've heard the idiot Scott's feeble excuse that they are only drifting in.

A drift current is not a "feeble excuse". Like I said, you don't even know what to look for. And electrons don't have "to fight its way past the solar wind and IMF", the Sun's electric field drives these currents. You clearly know nothing about electric discharge in plasmas, that's why it's "impossible woo" to you, your willful ignorance.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.