Large-scale power outages and satellite outages that affect air travel and the Internet are some of the possible consequences of massive solar storms. It is believed that these storms are caused by the release of huge amounts of stored energy due to changes in the magnetic field of the Sun’s outer atmosphere. Researchers have proposed a new method for studying the sun to improve the “comic weather forecast.” The results of the study are published by The Astrophysical Journal.
We are becoming increasingly dependent on space systems that are sensitive to space weather. Ground grids and electrical grids can be severely damaged by a violent eruption on the Sun, scientists say.
Solar flares are bursts of radiation and charged particles that can cause geomagnetic storms on Earth if they are large enough. Researchers are currently focusing on sunspots on the sun’s surface to predict possible eruptions. Another and more direct sign of increased solar activity may be changes in the much weaker magnetic field of the outer solar atmosphere – in its corona.
However, there has not yet been a direct measurement of the actual magnetic fields of the solar corona.
If we can continuously monitor these fields, we can develop a method that can be compared to meteorology for space weather. This will provide vital information for our society, which is so dependent on high-tech systems in our daily lives.
Dr. Ran Xi, Postdoc at Lund and Fudan University Collaboration
The method includes what can be called quantum mechanical interference. Since basically all information about the Sun reaches us through the “light” emitted by ions in its atmosphere, magnetic fields must be detected by measuring their effect on these ions. But the internal magnetic fields of ions are enormous – hundreds or thousands of times stronger than the fields that humans can generate even in their most advanced laboratories. Consequently, weak coronal fields leave virtually no trace, unless we can rely on a very subtle effect – interference between two “constellations” of electrons in an ion that is close – very close – in energy.
The new work builds on state-of-the-art calculations performed by the Department of Mathematical Physics at Lund University and combined with experiments using a device that can be imagined to be capable of producing and capturing small portions of the solar corona. This is an electron beam ion trap (EBIT) developed by Professor Roger Hutton’s team at Fudan University in Shanghai.
That scientists have been able to find a way to measure the relatively weak magnetic fields found in the outer layer of the sun is a fantastic breakthrough, the scientists conclude.