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Durham University

Department of Mathematical Sciences

Academic Staff

Publication details for Peter Wyper

Knizhnik, K. J., Antiochos, S. K., DeVore, C. R. & Wyper, P. F. (2017). The Mechanism for the Energy Buildup Driving Solar Eruptive Events. The Astrophysical Journal Letters 851(1): L17.

Author(s) from Durham


The underlying origin of solar eruptive events (SEEs), ranging from giant coronal mass ejections to small coronal-hole jets, is that the lowest-lying magnetic flux in the Sun's corona undergoes continual buildup of stress and free energy. This magnetic stress has long been observed as the phenomenon of "filament channels:" strongly sheared magnetic field localized around photospheric polarity inversion lines. However, the mechanism for the stress buildup—the formation of filament channels—is still debated. We present magnetohydrodynamic simulations of a coronal volume that is driven by transient, cellular boundary flows designed to model the processes by which the photosphere drives the corona. The key feature of our simulations is that they accurately preserve magnetic helicity, the topological quantity that is conserved even in the presence of ubiquitous magnetic reconnection. Although small-scale random stress is injected everywhere at the photosphere, driving stochastic reconnection throughout the corona, the net result of the magnetic evolution is a coherent shearing of the lowest-lying field lines. This highly counterintuitive result—magnetic stress builds up locally rather than spreading out to attain a minimum energy state—explains the formation of filament channels and is the fundamental mechanism underlying SEEs. Furthermore, this process is likely to be relevant to other astrophysical and laboratory plasmas.