‘Campfires’ offer clue to solar heating mystery

Science & Exploration


Computer simulations present that the miniature solar flares nicknamed ‘campfires’, found final 12 months by ESA’s Solar Orbiter, are probably pushed by a course of that will contribute considerably to the heating of the Sun’s outer ambiance, or corona. If confirmed by additional observations this provides a key piece to the puzzle of what heats the solar corona – one of many largest mysteries in solar physics.

 Campfires are one in every of many topics being mentioned in a devoted Solar Orbiter first outcomes session on the European Geosciences Union (EGU) General Assembly at this time.

Mystery heating

Anatomy of the Sun
The Sun has a mysterious characteristic: someway the tenuous outer ambiance incorporates gasoline with a temperature of 1,000,000 levels, but the solar floor is simply 5500°C. Logic would counsel that when you have a physique that may be very scorching on the centre and comparatively cool on the floor, it must be even cooler the additional you go away. But the peculiar factor in regards to the corona of the Sun – and lots of different stars as effectively – is that it begins to warmth up the additional you progress above the floor. Many concepts have been put ahead over the past many years homing in on the Sun’s magnetic subject, however how the power is generated, transported and dissipated has been a supply of a lot debate.Enter Solar Orbiter, with one in every of its key objectives to probe deeper into this mystery.  

Zooming in on solar campfires

Stunning element already offered by Solar Orbiter’s Extreme Ultraviolet Imager (EUI) ‘first light’ pictures  simply months after launch final 12 months and since then has revealed greater than 1500 small, flickering brightenings nicknamed campfires. These short-lived campfires final for between 10 and 200 seconds, and have a footprint overlaying between 400 and 4000 km. The smallest and weakest occasions, which had not been noticed earlier than, appear to be probably the most ample, and signify a beforehand unseen tremendous construction of the area the place the heating mystery is suspected to be rooted. 

Model campfires

Yajie Chen, a PhD scholar from Peking University in China, working with Professor Hardi Peter from the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Germany and colleagues, used a pc mannequin to dive into the physics of the campfires, with thrilling first outcomes.

Modelling campfire magnetic fields

“Our model calculates the emission, or energy, from the Sun as you would expect a real instrument to measure,” explains Hardi. “The model generated brightenings just like the campfires. Furthermore, it traces out the magnetic field lines, allowing us to see the changes of the magnetic field in and around the brightening events over time, telling us that a process called component reconnection seems to be at work.”Reconnection is a widely known phenomenon whereby magnetic subject traces of other way break after which reconnect, releasing power after they achieve this. Typical reconnection occurs between subject traces pointing in reverse instructions, however with so-called part reconnection the sphere traces are virtually parallel, pointing in the same course, with reconnection due to this fact taking place at very small angles.“Our model shows that the energy released from the brightenings through component reconnection could be enough to maintain the temperature of the solar corona predicted from observations,” says Yajie.

Evolution of a solar campfire

“In one of our case studies, we find that the untwisting of a flux rope [helical magnetic field lines winding around a common axis] initiates the heating instead,” provides Hardi. “It’s exciting to find these variations, and we’re looking forward to see what further insights our models bring to help us improve our theories on the processes behind the heating.”The crew cautions that it’s very early days. They have used the mannequin to take a look at seven of the brightest occasions generated of their simulation, which probably correspond to the biggest campfires noticed by EUI. Key to advancing the research might be joint observations between EUI and the spacecraft’s Polarimetric and Helioseismic Imager (PHI) and Spectral Imaging of the Coronal Environment (SPICE) spectrograph as soon as Solar Orbiter’s full science mission will get getting into November. PHI will reveal the magnetic subject of the Sun and the way it adjustments on the floor, whereas SPICE will measure the temperature and density of the corona.


Further perception into the campfires has additionally been enabled by pairing up with NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, which is in orbit across the Earth, to triangulate the peak of the campfires within the solar ambiance.“To our surprise, campfires are located very low in the solar atmosphere, only a few thousand kilometres above the solar surface, the photosphere,” says David Berghmans, Principal Investigator of EUI. “It is very early days, and we are still learning a lot about the campfire characteristics. For example, even though campfires look like small coronal loops, their length is on average a bit short for their height, suggesting we only see part of these little loops. But our preliminary analysis also shows that campfires do not really change their height during their lifetime, setting them aside from jet-like features.”Understanding the traits of the campfires and their place amongst different recognized solar phenomena will allow scientists to dive deeper into the solar corona heating drawback.

What can we find out about solar campfires up to now?
“How fantastic to already have such promising data that may provide insight into one of solar physics’ greatest mysteries before Solar Orbiter has even begun its nominal science phase,” says ESA’s Solar Orbiter Project Scientist Daniel Müller. “Our mission is lucky to be building on the incredible ground-work of those that have flown before, and the theories and models already put forward over the last decades. We’re looking forward to see what missing details Solar Orbiter – and the solar community working with our data – will contribute to solving open questions in this exciting field.”Solar Orbiter is at present in ‘cruise phase’, targeted totally on instrument calibration, and can start coordinated observations between its suite of ten distant sensing and in situ devices from November this 12 months.Solar Orbiter is an area mission of worldwide collaboration between ESA and NASA.

Solar Orbiter
Notes for editorsThe outcomes have been mentioned at EGU at this time and are linked to the next publications:“Transient small-scale brightenings in the quiet solar corona: a model for campfires observed with Solar Orbiter” by Y. Chen et al, accepted for publication in Astronomy and Astrophysics.“Extreme UV quiet Sun brightenings observed by Solar Orbiter/EUI” by D. Berghmans et al, accepted for publication in Astronomy and Astrophysics “Stereoscopy of extreme UV quiet Sun brightenings observed by Solar Orbiter/EUI” by A. Zhukov et al, submitted to Astronomy and Astrophysics.The laptop simulations described on this story have been carried out on the Max Planck Computing and Data Facility (MPCDF) in Garching, Germany. Media sources for the EGU General Assembly 2021 can be found at https://www.egu.eu/gamedia/2021/ 
For extra info, please contact:ESA Media Relationsmedia@esa.int

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