Fundamental plasma physics of the sun and heliosphere: CFSA Warwick

Lead Research Organisation: University of Warwick
Department Name: Physics


A quantitative understanding of the fundamental physical processes acting in the Sun's corona and solar wind is essential not only to the physics of the Sun and its connection to the Earth's environment, but it also enhances our knowledge of astrophysical plasma processes in general. For instance, the chromosphere is a natural laboratory for studying the magnetohydrodynamic (MHD) of partially ionised plasmas. Coronal MHD waves are of direct relevance to much of the dynamics such as solar flares and eruptions and carry unique information about the plasma parameters and physical processes operating in it; coronal waves are capable of transferring energy and mechanical momentum from the convection zone into the corona and heliosphere and are associated with the development of plasma instabilities. The plasma flowing out from the sun generates a solar wind. The texture and dynamics of the solar wind is intimately connected to that of the solar corona and this highly variable plasma flow can lead to local heating which in turn accelerates the solar wind. The solar wind is accelerated to such an extent that it is in principle a turbulence laboratory so that quantifying its fluctuations has direct implications for our understanding of turbulence.
Quantifying and understanding the fluctuating solar wind also provides an important input into models for the propagation of cosmic rays in the heliosphere, and for magnetospheric dynamics including space weather for which the solar wind is the driver. The Sun's magnetic field is generated and maintained by a dynamo in the solar interior. Helioseismology offers a means by which we can probe beneath the visible surface of the Sun, constraining uncertain dynamo models and providing vital insights into the internal magnetic field that is ultimately responsible for the more readily observable manifestations in the solar atmosphere and beyond. The physics of warm dense matter is at an extreme boundary of our knowledge of plasma physics relevant to astrophysics. A quantitative understanding of these processes, closely coupled to observations, can be seen as either the means to understanding observed phenomena, such as cosmic rays, and the structure of gas giants, or as using the observed phenomena as a strong drive to understanding new fundamental plasma physics. These ideas, techniques and expertise that underpin this programme are thus of impact beyond plasma astrophysics.

Planned Impact

The CFSA provides a unique opportunity for knowledge exchange between the fusion plasma physics community and that of solar system plasma physics. The techniques that we propose to develop for data analysis of nonlinear phenomena and extraction of dynamics from multi-channel complex signals, and in HPC, are of generic application and are at the forefront of grand challenges to both laboratory and astrophysical plasmas. The structure of the CFSA is specifically designed to foster the exchange of ideas between the STFC supported plasma astrophysics programme proposed here, and the EPSRC supported programme in plasma physics for fusion in its widest sense. This follows from our extensive track record of joint projects. By maintaining strong research links with industry, e.g. AWE, Culham and Fluid Gravity, we will continue to facilitate movement of our highly trained PhD students into the industrial sector. Our former graduates have positions in UK industrial R&D (Fluid Gravity, First Light Fusion, Littlestick) and in national facilities (QinetiQ, AWE, Proudham Oceanology, CCFE Culham, Financial and Defence Consultancy) as well as in the medical physics and financial sectors. The capacity building role of graduate and postgraduate training in its broadest sense is widely recognised in that effective and efficient high technology knowledge exchange and transfer is often best delivered through the movement of skilled people within and between research establishments and industrial sectors. The framework for direct knowledge exchange and transfer and capacity building is in place. The graduate student and PDRAs for which we request support here would have direct exposure to training and ideas in plasma physics for both space and fusion, and the relevant generic techniques in data analysis and HPC. Thus we anticipate a free flow of ideas, and highly trained and motivated young scientists between the two sectors. We will use our findings to present new methodologies to doctoral students at Warwick and to other graduate schools at which the Investigators give courses.

The proposers have a broad and innovative approach to outreach, spanning formal presentations to interest groups (local astronomical societies), active engagement with TV, radio, print media and larger projects (e.g. NESTA, Arts Council). The CFSA generates by far the most media mentions in the Physics Department (source, Communications Office, University of Warwick).


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Description NORKLIMA
Amount kr 900,000 (NOK)
Organisation Research Council of Norway 
Sector Public
Country Norway
Start 01/2014 
End 01/2016