College of Washington
For 400 years individuals have tracked sunspots, the darkish patches that seem for weeks at a time on the solar’s floor. They’ve noticed however been unable to elucidate why the variety of spots peaks each 11 years.
A College of Washington research revealed this month within the journal Physics of Plasmas proposes a mannequin of plasma movement that might clarify the 11-year sunspot cycle and a number of other different beforehand mysterious properties of the solar.
“Our mannequin is totally totally different from a standard image of the solar,” stated first creator Thomas Jarboe, a UW professor of aeronautics and astronautics. “I actually suppose we’re the primary individuals which can be telling you the character and supply of photo voltaic magnetic phenomena — how the solar works.”
The authors created a mannequin primarily based on their earlier work with fusion vitality analysis. The mannequin reveals skinny layer beneath the solar’s floor is vital to lots of the options we see from Earth, like sunspots, magnetic reversals and photo voltaic circulate, and is backed up by comparisons with observations of the solar.
“The observational information are key to confirming our image of how the solar capabilities,” Jarboe stated.
Within the new mannequin, a skinny layer of magnetic flux and plasma, or free-floating electrons, strikes at totally different speeds on totally different components of the solar. The distinction in velocity between the flows creates twists of magnetism, referred to as magnetic helicity, which can be just like what occurs in some fusion reactor ideas.
“Each 11 years, the solar grows this layer till it’s too massive to be secure, after which it sloughs off,” Jarboe stated. Its departure exposes the decrease layer of plasma transferring in the other way with a flipped magnetic area.
When the circuits in each hemispheres are transferring on the similar velocity, extra sunspots seem. When the circuits are totally different speeds, there’s much less sunspot exercise. That mismatch, Jarboe says, could have occurred through the many years of little sunspot exercise referred to as the “Maunder Minimal.”
“If the 2 hemispheres rotate at totally different speeds, then the sunspots close to the equator gained’t match up, and the entire thing will die,” Jarboe stated.
“Scientists had thought sunspot was generated down at 30 p.c of the depth of the solar, after which got here up in a twisted rope of plasma that pops out,” Jarboe stated. As an alternative, his mannequin reveals that the sunspots are within the “supergranules” that type throughout the skinny, subsurface layer of plasma that the research calculates to be roughly 100 to 300 miles (150 to 450 kilometers) thick, or a fraction of the solar’s 430,000-mile radius.
“The sunspot is a tremendous factor. There’s nothing there, after which unexpectedly, you see it in a flash,” Jarboe stated.
The group’s earlier analysis has centered on fusion energy reactors, which use very excessive temperatures just like these contained in the solar to separate hydrogen nuclei from their electrons. In each the solar and in fusion reactors the nuclei of two hydrogen atoms fuse collectively, releasing enormous quantities of vitality.
The kind of reactor Jarboe has centered on, a spheromak, comprises the electron plasma inside a sphere that causes it to self-organize into sure patterns. When Jarboe started to contemplate the solar, he noticed similarities, and created a mannequin for what is likely to be taking place within the celestial physique.
“For 100 years individuals have been researching this,” Jarboe stated. “Most of the options we’re seeing are under the decision of the fashions, so we are able to solely discover them in calculations.”
Different properties defined by the speculation, he stated, embody circulate contained in the solar, the twisting motion that results in sunspots and the whole magnetic construction of the solar. The paper is prone to provoke intense dialogue, Jarboe stated.
“My hope is that scientists will have a look at their information in a brand new gentle, and the researchers who labored their entire lives to assemble that information may have a brand new device to grasp what all of it means,” he stated.
The analysis was funded by the U.S. Division of Power. Co-authors are UW graduate college students Thomas Benedett, Christopher Everson, Christopher Hansen, Derek Sutherland, James Penna, UW postdoctoral researchers Aaron Hossack and John Benjamin O’Bryan, UW affiliate college member Brian Nelson, and Kyle Morgan, a former UW graduate scholar now at CTFusion in Seattle.