Pushing the Boundaries: Solar Physics in an Era of High Spatial and Temporal Resolution

Lead Research Organisation: Queen's University of Belfast
Department Name: Sch of Mathematics and Physics

Abstract

The Sun is the most important astronomical object for humankind, with solar activity driving 'space weather' and having a profound effect on the environment and communications. Here on Earth, we can see directly the effects of the Sun's radiation through fascinating sights such as the aurora. However, currently the power behind the Sun's activity cannot be predicted, or indeed fully explained. Most would expect that as you move away from a fierce heat source, such as a naked flame, the temperature will drop significantly. However, one of the greatest paradoxes plaguing solar-system scientists is the fact that the outer atmosphere of the Sun is much hotter than its surface! An increase in temperature from around 6000 degrees to well over one million degrees as you travel away from the surface belies common sense and has remained at the forefront of solar-system research for over 50 years. Many theories have been proposed in an attempt to understand the inner workings of this complex dynamical system, producing two distinct classes of theory: flare events and wave heating. The former suggests that rapidly occurring, small explosive events in the atmosphere of the Sun may cause the observed steep temperature gradient. The latter relies on the generation of magneto-hydrodynamic (MHD) waves which propagate upwards from the surface of the Sun and dissipate in the corona. A good analogy is to imagine ocean waves travelling across the vast seas before finally releasing their energy when they splash up against a rocky coastline. Theory suggests that MHD waves generated near the surface of the Sun through the continual churning of plasma may propagate upwards if the conditions are correct, ultimately dissipating their energy and heating the outer solar atmosphere. As an STFC Postdoctoral Fellow at QUB, I will utilize modern ground- and space-based telescopes containing a wide assortment of high resolution instruments. The observational component of my research programme will focus on the distinction of individual MHD waves, which will allow key characteristics to be evaluated. These include the mode of oscillation (longitudinal, transverse, etc.), the velocity, the direction and of course, the energy. I will compare these values to those specific for atmospheric heating of the Sun, thus allowing the current theoretical heating models described above to be validated or refuted. Computer simulations will also be implemented to validate observational methodologies and accuracy, culminating in much refined models of the solar atmosphere. With the rapid advancements made in the field of solar physics over the last number of years (better telescopes, detectors and computers), the ability to finally resolve the atmospheric heating paradox is now a reality and that is what I will strive to do as an STFC Postdoctoral Fellow.

Publications

10 25 50
publication icon
Ballai I (2011) TRACE observations of driven loop oscillations in Astronomy & Astrophysics

publication icon
Christian D (2011) THE SEARCH FOR SUPER-SATURATION IN CHROMOSPHERIC EMISSION in The Astrophysical Journal

publication icon
Crockett P (2009) Automated detection and tracking of solar magnetic bright points in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society

publication icon
Crockett P (2010) THE AREA DISTRIBUTION OF SOLAR MAGNETIC BRIGHT POINTS in The Astrophysical Journal

publication icon
Jess D (2010) MICROFLARE ACTIVITY DRIVEN BY FORCED MAGNETIC RECONNECTION in The Astrophysical Journal

publication icon
Jess D (2010) A STUDY OF MAGNETIC BRIGHT POINTS IN THE Na I D 1 LINE in The Astrophysical Journal

publication icon
Jess D (2012) THE ORIGIN OF TYPE I SPICULE OSCILLATIONS in The Astrophysical Journal

publication icon
Jess D (2012) THE SOURCE OF 3 MINUTE MAGNETOACOUSTIC OSCILLATIONS IN CORONAL FANS in The Astrophysical Journal

 
Description This research documented the detection and tracking of various wave modes through the lower solar atmosphere. The observations obtained from leading ground-based observatories provided unprecedentedly high resolution observations of magnetic elements, and these were shown to carry highly energetic waves upwards through the Sun's tenuous atmosphere. For the first time we showed how waves can convert their mode of oscillation and couple into dynamic phenomena that are omnipresent over the entire solar atmosphere.
Exploitation Route Others may drive forward the research started in this grant by incorporating other portions of the electromagnetic spectrum, such as the UV and extreme-UV. The techniques used could be refined by employing modern CPU and GPU algorithms to speed up processing times and help expedite scientific publication.
Sectors Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Education,Other

URL http://star.pst.qub.ac.uk/~dbj
 
Description The research undertaken in this grant has resulted in numerous public outreach and social events which have helped to raise the awareness of science to the general public. We have participated in numerous high-impact national events such as Stargazing Live and Jupiter Watch which attracted thousands of the general public.
First Year Of Impact 2009
Sector Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Education,Other
Impact Types Cultural,Societal

 
Description Royal Society Research Grant
Amount £15,000 (GBP)
Organisation The Royal Society 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 04/2010 
End 03/2011
 
Description Collaborative Research 
Organisation California State University, Northridge
Department Department of Physics and Astronomy
Country United States 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution We acquired, analysed and interpreted data with the help of the above collaborations.
Collaborator Contribution Collaborative partnership for research and subsequent publications.
Impact Multiple publications in refereed scientific journals.
Start Year 2009
 
Description Collaborative Research 
Organisation Catholic University of Louvain
Department Centre for Mathematical Plasma-Astrophysics
Country Belgium 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution We acquired, analysed and interpreted data with the help of the above collaborations.
Collaborator Contribution Collaborative partnership for research and subsequent publications.
Impact Multiple publications in refereed scientific journals.
Start Year 2009
 
Description Collaborative Research 
Organisation Institute of Astrophysics of the Canary Islands
Country Spain 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution We acquired, analysed and interpreted data with the help of the above collaborations.
Collaborator Contribution Collaborative partnership for research and subsequent publications.
Impact Multiple publications in refereed scientific journals.
Start Year 2009
 
Description Collaborative Research 
Organisation Lockheed Martin
Department Advanced Technology Center
Country United States 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution We acquired, analysed and interpreted data with the help of the above collaborations.
Collaborator Contribution Collaborative partnership for research and subsequent publications.
Impact Multiple publications in refereed scientific journals.
Start Year 2009
 
Description Collaborative Research 
Organisation National Astronomical Observatory of Japan
Country Japan 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution We acquired, analysed and interpreted data with the help of the above collaborations.
Collaborator Contribution Collaborative partnership for research and subsequent publications.
Impact Multiple publications in refereed scientific journals.
Start Year 2009
 
Description Collaborative Research 
Organisation National Institute for Astrophysics
Department Arcetri Observatory
Country Italy 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution We acquired, analysed and interpreted data with the help of the above collaborations.
Collaborator Contribution Collaborative partnership for research and subsequent publications.
Impact Multiple publications in refereed scientific journals.
Start Year 2009
 
Description Collaborative Research 
Organisation National Solar Observatory (NSO)
Country United States 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution We acquired, analysed and interpreted data with the help of the above collaborations.
Collaborator Contribution Collaborative partnership for research and subsequent publications.
Impact Multiple publications in refereed scientific journals.
Start Year 2009
 
Description Collaborative Research 
Organisation Northumbria University
Department Mathematics and Information Sciences
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution We acquired, analysed and interpreted data with the help of the above collaborations.
Collaborator Contribution Collaborative partnership for research and subsequent publications.
Impact Multiple publications in refereed scientific journals.
Start Year 2009
 
Description Collaborative Research 
Organisation University of Calabria
Department Department of Physics
Country Italy 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution We acquired, analysed and interpreted data with the help of the above collaborations.
Collaborator Contribution Collaborative partnership for research and subsequent publications.
Impact Multiple publications in refereed scientific journals.
Start Year 2009
 
Description Collaborative Research 
Organisation University of Manchester
Department Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution We acquired, analysed and interpreted data with the help of the above collaborations.
Collaborator Contribution Collaborative partnership for research and subsequent publications.
Impact Multiple publications in refereed scientific journals.
Start Year 2009
 
Description Collaborative Research 
Organisation University of Sheffield
Department Automatic Control and Systems Engineering
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution We acquired, analysed and interpreted data with the help of the above collaborations.
Collaborator Contribution Collaborative partnership for research and subsequent publications.
Impact Multiple publications in refereed scientific journals.
Start Year 2009
 
Description Collaborative Research 
Organisation University of Sheffield
Department Solar Physics and Space Plasma Research Centre
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution We acquired, analysed and interpreted data with the help of the above collaborations.
Collaborator Contribution Collaborative partnership for research and subsequent publications.
Impact Multiple publications in refereed scientific journals.
Start Year 2009
 
Description Collaborative Research 
Organisation University of St Andrews
Department School of Mathematics and Statistics
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution We acquired, analysed and interpreted data with the help of the above collaborations.
Collaborator Contribution Collaborative partnership for research and subsequent publications.
Impact Multiple publications in refereed scientific journals.
Start Year 2009
 
Description Astronomy Now 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact I was voted one of the top 5 "Astronomers of the Future" by Astronomy Now magazine, and they wrote a multi-page article about my research in their monthly magazine.

Many emails and telephone calls followed with interested parties asking questions about my research.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2010
 
Description BBC programme Science in Action 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Participated in a BBC radio programme "Science in Action" where the role of my research was discussed with listeners.

Many emails and telephone calls followed from people interested in my research.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2010
 
Description BBC programme What's Next? 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Was interviewed for BBC programme "What's Next?" regarding the increase in solar activity.

Have been asked to do subsequent radio interviews for the BBC.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2010
 
Description Daily Telegraph 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact I wrote an article which was published in the Daily Telegraph concerning solar activity.

Much interest from amateur and professional astronomers followed.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2010
 
Description Irish Astronomical Association 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an open day or visit at my research institution
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact 80 amateur astronomers attended a talk on recent solar activity, which sparked questions and discussion afterwards.

Have subsequently been asked to attend a general meeting to help raise interest among young people.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2010
 
Description School Visit 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an open day or visit at my research institution
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact 40 pupils attended a talk on the role of our Sun in the solar system, which sparked questions and discussion afterwards.

School reported higher numbers of students interested in work experience in a university environment.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2010