New findings reveal the behavior of turbulence in the exceptionally hot solar corona

December 21, 2018 by Raphael Rosen, Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory
PPPL Physicist Chuanfei Dong. Credit: Elle Starkman

The sun defies conventional scientific understanding. Its upper atmosphere, known as the corona, is many millions of degrees hotter than its surface. Astrophysicists are keen to learn why the corona is so hot, and scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) have completed research that may advance the search.

The scientists found that formation of magnetic bubbles known as plasmoids in a conducting fluid like plasma—the hot, charged state of matter composed of and atomic nuclei that the sun is made of—can affect the development of turbulence within the fluid. The turbulence then influences how heat flows through the sun and other astrophysical objects.

The new findings suggest that the formation of plasmoids in elongated current sheets within the plasma helps change large turbulent eddies into smaller whirlpool-like structures. This process creates localized intense electric current sheets in the plasma that affect the rate at which magnetic energy dissipates in the sun as it flows toward the corona.

"Until now, no one had investigated by direct numerical simulation how plasmoids can alter the turbulent energy spectrum in a conducting fluid," said physicist Chuanfei Dong of PPPL and the Princeton University Department of Astrophysical Sciences, lead author of the report of the results in Physical Review Letters. "Our simulations show that in a turbulent conducting fluid the formation of magnetic bubbles causes the turbulent eddies to transition from large scales to small scales more efficiently than previously thought."

The formation of plasmoids aids this transition by breaking apart the discrete boundaries of sheets of electric currents in the conducting , allowing the sheets to form smaller, fractal-like structures.

The findings apply not only to the sun, but also to like —clouds of dust and rock that circle dense objects such as black holes and can collapse into stars and planets. "The smallest current size in magnetohydrodynamic turbulence can be smaller than previously predicted," Dong said. "So the current sheets become more intense before they dissipate. As a result, this work can provide some basic understanding of the scales at which coronal heating occurs."

Researchers performed their simulations on supercomputers at sites ranging from the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center, a DOE user facility, to the National Science Foundation's Cheyenne supercomputer at the National Center for Atmospheric Research. Future research could entail expanding the simulation to include three dimensions. "We started in two dimensions, but the real world is 3-D," Dong said. "So what's the picture in 3-D? So far, no one knows."

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

More information: Chuanfei Dong et al, Role of the Plasmoid Instability in Magnetohydrodynamic Turbulence, Physical Review Letters (2018). DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevLett.121.165101

Related Stories

Growing magnetic fields in deep space: Just wiggle the plasma

November 5, 2018

Contrary to what many people believe, outer space is not empty. In addition to an electrically charged soup of ions and electrons known as plasma, space is permeated by magnetic fields with a wide range of strengths. Astrophysicists ...

Recommended for you

CMS gets first result using largest-ever LHC data sample

February 15, 2019

Just under three months after the final proton–proton collisions from the Large Hadron Collider (LHC)'s second run (Run 2), the CMS collaboration has submitted its first paper based on the full LHC dataset collected in ...

Gravitational waves will settle cosmic conundrum

February 14, 2019

Measurements of gravitational waves from approximately 50 binary neutron stars over the next decade will definitively resolve an intense debate about how quickly our universe is expanding, according to findings from an international ...

2 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

RealityCheck
3 / 5 (4) Dec 21, 2018
Back in 2014, I had occasion to discuss plasmoids in the sun's dynamics; and also pointed out how such distributed pinch-fusion processes/events all over/throughout the sun may explain many 'mysteries' which mainstream still (then) couldn't explain about solar mass ejections/coronal heating etc. Those interested in this subject matter may wish to especially follow my discussion with @Da Schneib in the first half of the thread at...

https://phys.org/...per.html

Good luck and good thinking all. :)

ps: Have a good and safe holiday season over your x-mass/new year break, everyone! :)

gculpex
not rated yet Dec 21, 2018

https://phys.org/...per.html

Good luck and good thinking all. :)

ps: Have a good and safe holiday season over your x-mass/new year break, everyone! :)


You too, Merry Christmas!!!!

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.