Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Sun's loops are displaying an optical illusion

Date:
July 9, 2013
Source:
Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics
Summary:
To understand how the corona is heated, some astronomers study coronal loops. These structures are shaped like an upside-down U and show where magnetic field lines are funneling solar gases or plasma. Our best photos of the sun suggest that these loops are a constant width, like strands of rope. However, new work shows that this is an optical illusion; the loops are actually tapered, wider at the top and narrower at the ends. This finding has important implications for coronal heating.

This photo of the Sun's edge, taken with the Solar Dynamics Observatory Atmospheric Imaging Assembly, shows coronal loops in a variety of sizes. Although the loops appear to have a constant width, like strands of rope, new work suggests that this is an optical illusion. The loops are actually tapered, wider at the top and narrower at the bottom.
Credit: NASA/SDO

The Sun's outer atmosphere, or corona, has posed an enduring mystery. Why is it so hot? The Sun's visible surface is only 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit, but as you move outward the temperature shoots up to millions of degrees. It's like a campfire that feels hotter the farther away you stand.

To understand how the corona is heated, some astronomers study coronal loops. These structures are shaped like an upside-down U and show where magnetic field lines are funneling solar gases or plasma.

Our best photos of the Sun suggest that these loops are a constant width, like strands of rope. However, new work shows that this is an optical illusion; the loops are actually tapered, wider at the top and narrower at the ends. This finding has important implications for coronal heating.

"You need less energy to heat the corona if the loops have a tapered geometry, which is exactly what we found," says lead author Henry Winter of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA).

Winter presented his findings today in a press conference at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society Solar Physics Division in Bozeman, Mont.

Winter and his colleagues constructed a computer model of a tapered loop using basic physics. Then they processed their model to show how it would look when photographed by instruments like the High-resolution Coronal Imager (Hi-C) or the Solar Dynamics Observatory's Atmospheric Imaging Assembly (AIA).

They found that even the best available images wouldn't have the resolution to show the loop's true structure. As a result, a tapered loop would appear tubular even though it wasn't.

"In science we always compare theory to reality. But if your view of reality is incorrect, your theory will be wrong too. What we thought we saw could be just an effect of the instrument," explains Winter.

Historically, as we have gotten better and better photos of coronal loops, they have revealed more and more structure. What first appeared to be a single loop turned out to be made of many smaller strands. The team's work shows that better instruments with higher resolution are still needed to reveal the true shape and structure of the loops.

"Coronal loops are like Russian nesting dolls. We keep pulling them apart but we haven't gotten to the smallest one yet," says Winter.

Winter's co-authors are Chester Curme (Boston University), Katharine Reeves (CfA), and Petrus Martens (Montana State University).

Headquartered in Cambridge, Mass., the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) is a joint collaboration between the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory and the Harvard College Observatory. CfA scientists, organized into six research divisions, study the origin, evolution and ultimate fate of the universe.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. "Sun's loops are displaying an optical illusion." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 9 July 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/07/130709155635.htm>.
Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. (2013, July 9). Sun's loops are displaying an optical illusion. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 31, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/07/130709155635.htm
Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. "Sun's loops are displaying an optical illusion." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/07/130709155635.htm (accessed July 31, 2014).

Share This




More Space & Time News

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Supply Ship Takes Off for International Space Station

Supply Ship Takes Off for International Space Station

AFP (July 30, 2014) The European Space Agency's fifth Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV-5) is takes off to the International Space Station on an Ariane 5 rocket from French Guiana. Duration: 00:34 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Rocket Launches Into Space With Cargo Ship

Raw: Rocket Launches Into Space With Cargo Ship

AP (July 30, 2014) Arianespace launched a rocket Tuesday from French Guiana carrying a robotic cargo ship to deliver provisions to the International Space Station. (July 30) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
In Virginia, the Rise of a New Space Coast

In Virginia, the Rise of a New Space Coast

AP (July 30, 2014) Every summer, tourists make the pilgrimage to Chincoteague Island, Va. to see wild ponies cross the Assateague Channel. But, it's the rockets sending to supplies to the International Space Station that are making this a year-round destination. (July 30) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Russia Saves Gecko Sex Satellite, Media Has Some Fun With It

Russia Saves Gecko Sex Satellite, Media Has Some Fun With It

Newsy (July 27, 2014) The satellite is back under ground control after a tense few days, but with a gecko sex experiment on board, the media just couldn't help themselves. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

    Environment News

    Technology News



      Save/Print:
      Share:

      Free Subscriptions


      Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

      Get Social & Mobile


      Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

      Have Feedback?


      Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
      Mobile: iPhone Android Web
      Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
      Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
      Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins