Astronomers love studying the Sun. It is, after all, the very reason for our existence. Thanks to the ultra high-def New Solar Telescope and researchers from the New Jersey Institute of Technology’s Big Bear Solar Observatory, we’re now able to learn more about all kinds of solar activity, from Sunspots to solar flares, which fling particles at incredible speeds and can interfere with electrical activity here on Earth.
The telescope has provided researchers with the highest ever resolution images of the Sun, revealing details that, previously, were only speculation. To learn more about so-called “solar surges,” researchers examined (comparatively) smaller magnetic-flux ropes on the solar surface as well as the initiation of plasma eruptions in the solar atmosphere. This was preferable and more manageable, given that solar surges are large, complicated events.
Based on the findings, scientists are beginning to understand the connection between the Sun’s layers, from the surface to the outermost layer (known as the corona). The NJIT team, led by Vargas Dominguez, also found previously unknown factors contributing to plasma surges and heating of the solar atmosphere.
The images obtained by the 1.6 meter telescope were taken in 15-second intervals with a spatial resolution of approximately 40 miles per pixel. What Dominguez and his found was that solar surges happen when those magnetic-flux ropes emerge briefly on the surface and interact with ambient magnetic fields. The brevity of the ropes’ emergence is likely why the source of solar surges were previously so mysterious.
The takeaway from the research is that as big as the Sun is, smaller-scale “hidden” factors play a big role in how energy makes it out of the Sun and into the solar (and sometimes Earth’s) atmosphere. From the Big Bear Solar Observatory’s press release:
“The process investigated can play a significant role in mass and energy flow from the Sun’s interior to the corona, the solar wind and Earth’s near-space environment.”