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Durham University

Department of Mathematical Sciences


Peter Wyper demystifies solar eruptions

(27 April 2017)

Peter Wyper, who recently joined the Department of Mathematical Sciences at Durham with a Royal Astronomical Society Fellowship, has just published an exciting model of solar eruptions in Nature with two colleagues from the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.

Large and small scale solar eruptions might all be triggered by a single process, according to new research that leads to a better understanding of the Sun’s activity. Using 3D computer simulations, Peter and his two collaborators show a theoretical link between large and small scale eruptions that were previously thought to be driven by different processes.

They look at the mechanism behind coronal jets - relatively small bursts of plasma (hot gas) from the Sun – and much larger-scale coronal mass ejections (CMEs), where giant clouds of plasma and magnetic field are blown into space at high speed. Both types of eruptions were known to involve snake-like filaments of dense plasma low in the Sun’s atmosphere, but until now how they erupted at such vastly different scales was unclear.

The researchers discovered that the filaments in jets are triggered to erupt when the magnetic field lines above them break and rejoin - a process known as magnetic reconnection. The same process was previously known to explain many CMEs.

The strength and structure of the magnetic field around the filament determines the type of eruption that occurs, the researchers said.

Understanding solar eruptions is important as their electromagnetic radiation can disrupt radio transmissions and satellite communications, and they can eject high-energy electrically charged particles that can potentially endanger astronauts.

The scientists call their proposed mechanism for how filaments lead to eruptions the breakout model, because of the way the stressed filament pushes relentlessly at – and ultimately breaks through – its magnetic restraints into space.

The results have been widely reported in the media. Congratulations to Peter for this potentially high impact research.

See also

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Coverage by various specialist media outlets:
Science Daily
International Business Times