March 21st, 2013
A History of Solar Activity over Millennia
by: Ilya G. Usoskin
Presented here is a review of present knowledge of the long-term behavior of solar activity on a multi-millennial timescale, as reconstructed using the indirect proxy method. The concept of solar activity is discussed along with an overview of the special indices used to quantify different aspects of variable solar activity, with special emphasis upon sunspot number.
Over long timescales, quantitative information about past solar activity can only be obtained using a method based upon indirect proxies, such as the cosmogenic isotopes 14C and 10Be in natural stratified archives (e.g., tree rings or ice cores). We give an historical overview of the development of the proxy-based method for past solar-activity reconstruction over millennia, as well as a description of the modern state. Special attention is paid to the verification and cross-calibration of reconstructions. It is argued that this method of cosmogenic isotopes makes a solid basis for studies of solar variability in the past on a long timescale (centuries to millennia) during the Holocene.
A separate section is devoted to reconstructions of strong solar energetic-particle (SEP) events in the past, that suggest that the present-day average SEP flux is broadly consistent with estimates on longer timescales, and that the occurrence of extra-strong events is unlikely.
Finally, the main features of the long-term evolution of solar magnetic activity, including the statistics of grand minima and maxima occurrence, are summarized and their possible implications, especially for solar/stellar dynamo theory, are discussed.
November 26th, 2012
The Sun’s Global Photospheric and Coronal Magnetic Fields: Observations and Models
by: Anthony Yeates and Duncan Mackay
In this review, our present day understanding of the Sun’s global photospheric and coronal magnetic fields is discussed from both observational and theoretical viewpoints. Firstly, the large-scale properties of photospheric magnetic fields are described, along with recent advances in photospheric magnetic flux transport models. Following this, the wide variety of theoretical models used to simulate global coronal magnetic fields are described. From this, the combined application of both magnetic flux transport simulations and coronal modeling techniques to describe the phenomena of coronal holes, the Sun’s open magnetic flux and the hemispheric pattern of solar filaments is discussed. Finally, recent advances in non-eruptive global MHD models are described. While the review focuses mainly on solar magnetic fields, recent advances in measuring and modeling stellar magnetic fields are described where appropriate. In the final section key areas of future research are identified.
September 20th, 2012
Solar Force-free Magnetic Fields
by: Takashi Sakurai and Thomas Wiegelmann
The structure and dynamics of the solar corona is dominated by the magnetic field. In most areas in the corona magnetic forces are so dominant that all non-magnetic forces like plasma pressure gradient and gravity can be neglected in the lowest order. This model assumption is called the force-free field assumption, as the Lorentz force vanishes. This can be obtained by either vanishing electric currents (leading to potential fields) or the currents are co-aligned with the magnetic field lines. First we discuss a mathematically simpler approach that the magnetic field and currents are proportional with one global constant, the so-called linear force-free field approximation. In the generic case, however, the relation between magnetic fields and electric currents is nonlinear and analytic solutions have been only found for special cases, like 1D or 2D configurations. For constructing realistic nonlinear force-free coronal magnetic field models in 3D, sophisticated numerical computations are required and boundary conditions must be obtained from measurements of the magnetic field vector in the solar photosphere. This approach is currently of large interests, as accurate measurements of the photospheric field become available from ground-based (for example SOLIS) and space-born (for example Hinode and SDO) instruments. If we can obtain accurate force-free coronal magnetic field models we can calculate the free magnetic energy in the corona, a quantity which is important for the prediction of flares and coronal mass ejections. Knowledge of the 3D structure of magnetic field lines also help us to interpret other coronal observations, e.g., EUV images of the radiating coronal plasma.
July 19th, 2012
Solar Surface Magneto-Convection
by: Robert F. Stein
We review the properties of solar magneto-convection in the top half of the convection zones scale heights (from 20 Mm below the visible surface to the surface, and then through the photosphere to the temperature minimum). Convection is a highly non-linear and non-local process, so it is best studied by numerical simulations. We focus on simulations that include sufficient detailed physics so that their results can be quantitatively compared with observations.
The solar surface is covered with magnetic features with spatial sizes ranging from unobservably small to hundreds of megameters. Three orders of magnitude more magnetic flux emerges in the quiet Sun than emerges in active regions. In this review we focus mainly on the properties of the quiet Sun magnetic field.
The Sun’s magnetic field is produced by dynamo action throughout the convection zone, primarily by stretching and twisting in the turbulent downflows. Diverging convective upflows and magnetic buoyancy carry magnetic flux toward the surface and sweep the field into the surrounding downflow lanes where the field is dragged downward. The result is a hierarchy of undulating magnetic Ω- and U-loops of different sizes. New magnetic flux first appears at the surface in a mixed polarity random pattern and then collects into isolated unipolar regions due to underlying larger scale magnetic structures. Rising magnetic structures are not coherent, but develop a filamentary structure. Emerging magnetic flux alters the convection properties, producing larger, darker granules.
Strong field concentrations inhibit transverse plasma motions and, as a result, reduce convective heat transport toward the surface which cools. Being cooler, these magnetic field concentrations have a shorter scale height and become evacuated. The field becomes further compressed and can reach strengths in balance with the surrounding gas pressure. Because of their small internal density, photons escape from deeper in the atmosphere. Narrow evacuated field concentrations get heated from their hot sidewalls and become brighter than their surroundings. Wider magnetic concentrations are not heated so they become darker, forming pores and sunspots.
June 29th, 2012
Coronal Mass Ejections: Observations
by: David F. Webb and Timothy A. Howard
Solar eruptive phenomena embrace a variety of eruptions, including flares, solar energetic particles, and radio bursts. Since the vast majority of these are associated with the eruption, development, and evolution of coronal mass ejections (CMEs), we focus on CME observations in this review. CMEs are a key aspect of coronal and interplanetary dynamics. They inject large quantities of mass and magnetic flux into the heliosphere, causing major transient disturbances. CMEs can drive interplanetary shocks, a key source of solar energetic particles and are known to be the major contributor to severe space weather at the Earth. Studies over the past decade using the data sets from (among others) the SOHO, TRACE, Wind, ACE, STEREO, and SDO spacecraft, along with ground-based instruments, have improved our knowledge of the origins and development of CMEs at the Sun and how they contribute to space weather at Earth. SOHO, launched in 1995, has provided us with almost continuous coverage of the solar corona over more than a complete solar cycle, and the heliospheric imagers SMEI (2003 – 2011) and the HIs (operating since early 2007) have provided us with the capability to image and track CMEs continually across the inner heliosphere. We review some key coronal properties of CMEs, their source regions and their propagation through the solar wind. The LASCO coronagraphs routinely observe CMEs launched along the Sun-Earth line as halo-like brightenings. STEREO also permits observing Earth-directed CMEs from three different viewpoints of increasing azimuthal separation, thereby enabling the estimation of their three-dimensional properties. These are important not only for space weather prediction purposes, but also for understanding the development and internal structure of CMEs since we view their source regions on the solar disk and can measure their in-situ characteristics along their axes. Included in our discussion of the recent developments in CME-related phenomena are the latest developments from the STEREO and LASCO coronagraphs and the SMEI and HI heliospheric imagers.
April 5th, 2012
by: José Luis Ballester and Ramón Oliver and Iñigo Arregui
Prominences are intriguing, but poorly understood, magnetic structures of the solar corona. The dynamics of solar prominences has been the subject of a large number of studies, and of particular interest is the study of prominence oscillations. Ground- and space-based observations have confirmed the presence of oscillatory motions in prominences and they have been interpreted in terms of magnetohydrodynamic (MHD) waves. This interpretation opens the door to perform prominence seismology, whose main aim is to determine physical parameters in magnetic and plasma structures (prominences) that are difficult to measure by direct means. Here, we review the observational information gathered about prominence oscillations as well as the theoretical models developed to interpret small amplitude oscillations and their temporal and spatial attenuation. Finally, several prominence seismology applications are presented.
March 2nd, 2012
Observations of Cool-Star Magnetic Fields
by: Ansgar Reiners
Cool stars like the Sun harbor convection zones capable of producing substantial surface magnetic fields leading to stellar magnetic activity. The influence of stellar parameters like rotation, radius, and age on cool-star magnetism, and the importance of the shear layer between a radiative core and the convective envelope for the generation of magnetic fields are keys for our understanding of low-mass stellar dynamos, the solar dynamo, and also for other large-scale and planetary dynamos. Our observational picture of cool-star magnetic fields has improved tremendously over the last years. Sophisticated methods were developed to search for the subtle effects of magnetism, which are difficult to detect particularly in cool stars. With an emphasis on the assumptions and capabilities of modern methods used to measure magnetism in cool stars, I review the different techniques available for magnetic field measurements. I collect the analyses on cool-star magnetic fields and try to compare results from different methods, and I review empirical evidence that led to our current picture of magnetic fields and their generation in cool stars and brown dwarfs.
December 15th, 2011
Solar Flares: Magnetohydrodynamic Processes
by: Tetsuya Magara and Kazunari Shibata
This paper outlines the current understanding of solar flares, mainly focused on magnetohydrodynamic (MHD) processes responsible for producing a flare. Observations show that flares are one of the most explosive phenomena in the atmosphere of the Sun, releasing a huge amount of energy up to about 10^32 erg on the timescale of hours. Flares involve the heating of plasma, mass ejection, and particle acceleration that generates high-energy particles. The key physical processes for producing a flare are: the emergence of magnetic field from the solar interior to the solar atmosphere (flux emergence), local enhancement of electric current in the corona (formation of a current sheet), and rapid dissipation of electric current (magnetic reconnection) that causes shock heating, mass ejection, and particle acceleration. The evolution toward the onset of a flare is rather quasi-static when free energy is accumulated in the form of coronal electric current (field-aligned current, more precisely), while the dissipation of coronal current proceeds rapidly, producing various dynamic events that affect lower atmospheres such as the chromosphere and photosphere. Flares manifest such rapid dissipation of coronal current, and their theoretical modeling has been developed in accordance with observations, in which numerical simulations proved to be a strong tool reproducing the time-dependent, nonlinear evolution of a flare. We review the models proposed to explain the physical mechanism of flares, giving an comprehensive explanation of the key processes mentioned above. We start with basic properties of flares, then go into the details of energy build-up, release and transport in flares where magnetic reconnection works as the central engine to produce a flare.
October 10th, 2011
Solar Stereoscopy and Tomography
by: Markus J. Aschwanden
We review stereoscopic and tomographic methods used in the solar corona, including ground-based and space-based measurements, using solar rotation or multiple spacecraft vantage points, in particular from the STEREO mission during 2007–2010. Stereoscopic and tomographic observations in the solar corona include large-scale structures, streamers, active regions, coronal loops, loop oscillations, acoustic waves in loops, erupting filaments and prominences, bright points, jets, plumes, flares, CME source regions, and CME-triggered global coronal waves. Applications in the solar interior (helioseismic tomography) and reconstruction and tracking of CMEs from the outer corona and into the heliosphere (interplanetary CMEs) are not included.
September 9th, 2011
Magnetic Structure of Sunspots
by: Kiyoshi Ichimoto and Juan M. Borrero
In this review we give an overview about the current state-of-knowledge of the magnetic field in sunspots from an observational point of view. We start by offering a brief description of tools that are most commonly employed to infer the magnetic field in the solar atmosphere with emphasis in the photosphere of sunspots. We then address separately the global and local magnetic structure of sunspots, focusing on the implications of the current observations for the different sunspots models, energy transport mechanisms, extrapolations of the magnetic field towards the Corona, and other issues.