Recreating Sun Activity
Coronal loops are long, arching magnetic field lines, inside which superheated solar gases - plasma - are funnelled from the interior high way up into the corona - high atmosphere - such multimillion degree plasma loops known to be the solar flare source
Recreating Sun Activity
If you want to know how powerful our sun really is, all you need to know is that a massive surge of either deadly X-rays or solar plasma could easily lead to the crippling of our high-technology dependant civilization.
At CALTECH - California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, California, in a laboratory, researchers have re-created a micro-solar an understanding what it is that leads up to and causes major solar eruptions. Astronomers regularly witness the solar surface becoming, during periods of intense magnetic activity, pock-marked with sunspots, dark spots showing where powerful loops of magnetic field are being forced through the photosphere of the star.
Such field lines are by some described as being similar to lengths of kinked and twisted rubber bands, sunspot numbers directly relating to magnetic health of the sun, so the fewer there are, the more stable it is, but about every 11 years the sun moves from minimum to maximum magnetic stress, this most stormy of anniversaries next due in 2013.
That is why, as we get ever closer to this so-called solar maximum, observers will undoubtedly see far more solar flares and coronal mass ejections, often occurring around sunspots, so regions of intense sunspot activity make space weather forecasters nervous, but what causes these eruptions, and can they be predicted?
Caltech professor of applied physics Paul Bellan, along with graduate student Eve Stenson hope to discover this by experimenting on creating beautiful coronal loops by finding two magnetic forces at work - one expanding the arch radius and so lengthening the loop - the other continuously injecting plasma from both loop ends, the secondary force injecting just enough plasma to keep loop density constant during lengthening.
By creating two such loops side by side - to see how they interact -understanding of just how huge sun-based coronal loops behave, hopefully making prediction more accurate. Coronal loops are long, arching magnetic field lines, inside which superheated solar gases - plasma - are funnelled from the interior high way up into the corona - high atmosphere - such multimillion degree plasma loops known to be the solar flare source..
These vastly energetic flares form when stressed magnetic field lines snap and then reconnect, causing intense internal plasma acceleration and can occur without warning, often drenching the Earth's atmosphere in lethal bursts of radioactive energy, damaging ruining satellites and an obvious hazard for astronauts, so the more warning we can get the better.
That is why Bellan and Stenson set up - inside a laboratory vacuum chamber - an apparatus to help them create coronal loops using a plasma injection gun and electromagnets, producing results nothing less than spectacular, even if only lasting a fraction of a second. They inject hydrogen and nitrogen gases into the footpoints of the synthetic coronal loop before applying a high-voltage current.
This turns the gases to plasma, then accelerated to six miles per second, using high-speed cameras with optical filters to capture plasma behaviour, the gases coloured differently so motion can be observed, and the resulting images are spectacular indeed.