Solving sunspot mysteries

From the New Jersey Institute of Technology  and Big Bear Solar Observatory

 (video follows)

Multi-wavelength observations of sunspots with the 1.6-meter telescope at Big Bear Solar Observatory (BBSO) in California and aboard NASA’s IRIS spacecraft have produced new and intriguing images of high-speed plasma flows and eruptions extending from the Sun’s surface to the outermost layer of the solar atmosphere, the corona. Operated by New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT), BBSO houses the largest ground-based telescope dedicated to solar research.

On June 2, NJIT researchers reported on the acquisition of these images at the 224th meeting of the American Astronomical Society (AAS), held in Boston, Massachusetts. The high-definition video acquired at BBSO provides unique 3D views of a sunspot, revealing rapidly rotating plasma rolls, powerful shocks, and widespread plasma eruptions driven by solar-energy flux and controlled by intense magnetic fields. These leading-edge observations show that sunspots are far more complex and dynamic than previously believed.

Sunspots, first seen by Galileo more than 400 years ago as dark blemishes on the Sun, are still one of the greatest mysteries of astronomy. It has been known for more than a century that sunspots are compact, concentrated magnetic fields and that they appear dark because the magnetism prevents heat from rising to the surface from the superhot interior. But why these magnetic fields become so concentrated and compacted in structures that remain stable for days and sometimes weeks in a very turbulent environment is a mystery.

Sunspots can be the size of Earth or as big as Jupiter. Typical sunspots are nearly round with a very dark and relatively “cold” umbra (7,000 degrees Fahrenheit compared to the 10,000-degree solar surface) surrounded by a less dark and warmer penumbra. However, there are no external forces on the Sun that could hold these giant magnetic structures together. They appear and are organized by their own induced forces. Understanding the processes of such self-organization in the hot turbulent plasma is of fundamental importance for physics and astrophysics.

Investigating sunspots is much more than a matter of curiosity and the desire to increase the fund of basic scientific knowledge. When sunspots that are close to each other have magnetic fields with opposite polarities, they can produce powerful flares and solar storms. On Earth, this can severely damage communications and power infrastructure. Similar but even more intense magnetic phenomena have been detected on other stars, which may be a factor hindering the development of life elsewhere in our Galaxy.

At the AAS meeting, the NJIT researchers presented video chronicling several hours in the life of an isolated sunspot that did not generate solar flares. But the roiling action revealed was a transformative view of sunspots as static-equilibrium structures maintaining a balance between magnetic force and gas pressure.

The telescope at BBSO that made these unparalleled observations possible was completed in 2009 under the leadership of Philip Goode, NJIT distinguished professor of physics and at the time director of the university’s Center for Solar-Terrestrial Research. The telescope is equipped with adaptive optics that include a deformable mirror to compensate for the atmospheric distortion of images in real time. Images are captured with very fast cameras in 15-second “bursts” of 100 images, and then processed using a speckle reconstruction technique to improve sharpness.

The imaging and data-acquisition systems were developed by the BBSO engineering team led by Wenda Cao, NJIT associate professor of physics and the observatory’s associate director. The data recorded is unique in that it comprises a long, uninterrupted series that allows researchers to look at a sunspot’s life cycle and activity with unprecedented spatial resolution. Previously, only short series or snapshots with such resolution were available.

The sunspot data shared at the AAS meeting was obtained on September 29, 2013. The solar surface, the photosphere, was imaged using a red-light filter in the range of molecular TiO lines, to achieve the best contrast in the sunspot’s umbra. Simultaneously, scanning the hydrogen H-alpha spectral line facilitated imaging at five different wavelengths. The H-alpha data yielded images of plasma flows at various layers in the solar atmosphere, enabling the NJIT researchers to obtain a dynamic 3D view of the sunspot. The BBSO data was compared with UV images of the high and hot atmosphere obtained by NASA’s IRIS satellite for the same region. This joint observing program allows investigation of the origins of solar UV radiation.

The data as presented in the high-definition video shown at the meeting reveals small-scale activity of a generally “quiet” sunspot in unprecedented detail. Remarkably, the organization of small-scale substructures is comparable to that seen at larger scales, indicating the existence of large-scale dynamics which control the formation and stability of sunspots. In particular, the TiO images provide the first detailed view of the darkest regions of sunspots, revealing rapidly rotating convective rolls in the penumbra and similarly rotating relatively bright “umbral dots.” The umbral dots form an evolving pattern clearly linked to the outer penumbra structure. Such evolution provides evidence for large-scale flows that probably play a key role in the self-organization and stability of sunspots.

The most prominent features in the Sun’s chromosphere are periodic pulses — shocks generated by sunspots at intervals of about three minutes. The shocks, which travel into the high solar atmosphere with a speed of about 45,000 miles per hour, are observed by the IRIS spacecraft as UV flashes above the sunspot. The sunspot’s umbra is covered by ubiquitous eruptions — plasma jets that may contribute to the shocks detected.

The most significant UV emissions and violent motion are observed above the area where the penumbra intrudes into the umbra, the so-called “light bridge.” It is likely that this effect is related to anomalies in the sunspot’s magnetic topology, and requires further investigation. Some of the most dramatic events are high-speed plasma jets originating from the penumbra, as well as the apparent chromospheric accretion of dense plasma sheets into the sunspot. The origin of the accretion flows is another puzzle.

Looking ahead, the NJIT researchers plan to use quantitative diagnostics to study plasma and magnetic-field properties through analysis of polarized solar light, and to integrate realistic numerical simulations performed on supercomputer systems into their work. Comparable simulations at the NASA Ames Research Center have revealed a magnetic self-organization process that caused a compact “mini-spot” magnetic structure to form through the interaction of vortex tubes below the visible solar surface.

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Funding for this research has been provided by AFORS, NASA, NSF and NJIT.

For more information, including images and video, visit http://bbso.njit.edu.

41 thoughts on “Solving sunspot mysteries

  1. dang Cosmos said just the opposite, what are liberal socialist Democrats going 2 believe…

  2. (bold added)
    Looking ahead, the NJIT researchers plan to use quantitative diagnostics to study plasma and magnetic-field properties through analysis of polarized solar light, and to integrate realistic numerical simulations performed on supercomputer systems into their work.

    Do we know enough now about the deeper layers to successfully model the solar climate?

    Or is so much of this happening on the quickly-moving “skin” that the deeper layers don’t matter that much?

  3. My goodness there is a lot of dust on the mirrors… that has to be not a good thing. Hepa filter anyone???

  4. Here is a list of solar models that we compiled. Some crazy, some fit the data but are not accepted….

    Solar Models

    Standard Model
    Kristian Birkeland: Auroral Currents
    Charles Bruce: More Electrical Properties
    Ralph Juergens & Earle Milton: Anode Sun
    Hannes Alfvén: Unipolar Inductor
    Wal Thornhill: Galactic Currents
    Don Scott: Anode Sun w/ PNP Transistor
    Bob Johnson: Toroidal Plasmoid
    Charles Chandler: Compressive Ionization
    Harold Aspden: Supercritical Hydrogen
    Pierre-Marie Robitaille: Liquid Metallic Hydrogen
    Oliver Manuel: Supernova Neutronium Core
    Michael Mozina: Iron Surface, Neon Atmosphere
    Brant Callahan: Iron Sun Aether Converter
    Solid Iron Sun Models: Unanswered Questions
    Anonymous: Sonoluminescence
    Jeffrey Wolynski: Stellar Metamorphosis
    Miles Mathis: Collapsed Charge Fields

    http://qdl.scs-inc.us/2ndParty/Pages/6961.html

  5. From Brant Ra on June 3, 2014 at 7:23 pm:


    Oliver Manuel: Supernova Neutronium Core

    Solid Iron Sun Models: Unanswered Questions

    Looks like some mistake, or perhaps crossover of concepts. It’s been awhile since I read someone describing Iron Sun, repeatedly, on every solar thread…

  6. The power of the electromagnetic forces and their effect on the solar system and perhaps (maybe likely) our climate remains elusive to modern science. There are way more questions than answers….electric universe stuff maybe more fact than fiction.

  7. Thanks Anthony, cool, being able to see these features and interactions on the sun..
    Puts a new twist on imaginary magnetic field lines, too.

    Some of the descriptions are reminding me of things in Earth’s atmosphere, like “rotating convective rolls” as seen on the Earth Wind Map. Also seen on the Earth Wind Map, deep penetrating “vortex tubes.”

    I’m thinking a better understanding of Solar differential rotation rate in combination with images like these will help answer some of the sunspot cycle mysteries.

    …In particular, the TiO images provide the first detailed view of the darkest regions of sunspots, revealing rapidly rotating convective rolls in the penumbra and similarly rotating relatively bright “umbral dots.” The umbral dots form an evolving pattern clearly linked to the outer penumbra structure. Such evolution provides evidence for large-scale flows that probably play a key role in the self-organization and stability of sunspots…
    …Comparable simulations at the NASA Ames Research Center have revealed a magnetic self-organization process that caused a compact “mini-spot” magnetic structure to form through the interaction of vortex tubes below the visible solar surface….

  8. Brant Ra says:
    June 3, 2014 at 7:23 pm
    Here is a list of solar models that we compiled. Some crazy, some fit the data but are not accepted….
    And all of them are just nonsense.
    The standard solar model is derived from fundamental physical processes and is amply verified by observations [helioseismology, neutrino flux, etc]. The current emphasis is to model the fine-structure, e.g. of sunspots. The BBSO data is a wonderful verification of the theoretical simulations.

  9. If Earth’s rotation speed is linked to dipolar strength and circulation flows..Like faster rotation stronger dipole and magnetic field and associated vortex strength affecting atmospheric circulation patterns.

    Is the sun similarly affected by changes in rotation rate?

    Like If the solar rotation speed slows how will that affect magnetic flux movement trying to push down from the poles? Or changes in length of solar cycle?

  10. Cosmos is a dissemination source for the alarmists. They are attempting to build off the success of Sagan, and their “science” is very shaky…I advise my physics students to skip this program .

  11. Tho’ diamonds grace a loved ones hand
    and shines its star next wedding band
    much more in heaven my God’s delight
    that Sun that brings its morning light

  12. lsvalgaard says:
    June 3, 2014 at 8:29 pm
    Brant Ra says:
    June 3, 2014 at 7:23 pm
    Here is a list of solar models that we compiled. Some crazy, some fit the data but are not accepted….
    And all of them are just nonsense.
    The standard solar model is derived from fundamental physical processes and is amply verified by observations [helioseismology, neutrino flux, etc]. The current emphasis is to model the fine-structure, e.g. of sunspots. The BBSO data is a wonderful verification of the theoretical simulations.

    I respect what you have accomplished lsvalgaard, but no not all of them are nonsense…
    There are people just as bright(er) as you working on the problems of the sun. The standard model leaves a lot to be desired. There are some amazing images taken by TRACE where the plasma is moving on top of an unmoving plane of matter..
    Magnetogram images are based on iron and nickle ion layers with amazing accuracy… I say thats a solid surface to be as accurate as they claim for helioseismology…
    The exterior is hotter.

    Pieces of the solar surface falling back on a ballistic trajectory falling through a cooler! layer into a hotter layer, splashing.

    You cant discover everything….
    Brant

  13. Solid. No… it might appear that way, solid no… not at all in anything other than it looks solid because it’s so huge and one cannot see it appearing liquid. There is no metal at those temperatures that can be solid.

  14. Brant Ra says:
    June 3, 2014 at 9:08 pm
    but no not all of them are nonsense…
    Well, which of them do you consider to be nonsense, then?

    Magnetogram images are based on iron and nickle ion layers with amazing accuracy
    You can take magnetograms in lines of many other elements, e.g. Sodium [the second row of solar images on http://obs.astro.ucla.edu/intro.html ]. Do you then consider the Sun to be a ball of Sodium? Actually, the Sun is mostly Hydrogen and Helium with only about 1% of heavier elements.

    Anyway, I consider all of your ‘models’ to be nonsense and people who believe in them to be science illiterate.

  15. lsvalgaard June 3, 2014 at 9:25 wrote: Anyway, I consider all of your ‘models’ to be nonsense and people who believe in them to be science illiterate
    I agree. Btw just read your paper Confronting-Models-with-Reconstructions-and-Data.ppt (ESWE Boulder, 2014) pdf. Good paper.
    But I do have a problem with data in models shown not only for the years directly prior to 1940 nor only due to the identified problems of SSN-series and so on.
    I do have a problem with period March 1926-March 1929 more to the fact that it seems as there still is a factor not counted for in observations during that period. Especially in observations and estimations in models for year 1928. Would you care to explain?

  16. Being only a lowly engineer and not a scientist I have however followed the sciences over the last half century. Disappointment is about the best term I can use at the moribund nature of science caused by the consensus science of the standard models. Most of the universe is missing, that makes a mockery of one standard model. Particle physics has been running in a closed loop chasing imaginary particles with imaginary mathematics and is close to collapse, another standard model that seems some what uncosher.

    Then our resident solar scientist tells us his consensus science the standard model for the sun is the only correct science for all things solar. I am sorry Isvalgaard, any scientist that follows the herd of a consensus religiously and never thinks outside the square, by definition is not a scientist.

  17. norah4you says:
    June 3, 2014 at 10:15 pm
    I do have a problem with period March 1926-March 1929 more to the fact that it seems as there still is a factor not counted for in observations during that period. Especially in observations and estimations in models for year 1928. Would you care to explain?
    I do not know of anything particular about 1928 so cannot help you. At any rate, that is only one year out of several hundred.

    wayne Job says:
    June 4, 2014 at 2:21 am
    Then our resident solar scientist tells us his consensus science the standard model for the sun is the only correct science for all things solar.
    The Standard Model is the Standard because it fits the observations so very well. Explaining the data is the gold standard by which any model must be judged.

  18. Yes that the only year or at least only that I found o far…. what I had in mind was if it was a change of used technical equipments used for observations within the period 1926-29 that I am not aware of. That might be an unknown factor. Or for that matter if there was a change in some normally minor factor only occuring in longer intervals than a few hundred to a thousand years. Can’t figure it out. If you do, please let me know.

  19. ”Similar but even more intense magnetic phenomena have been detected on other stars, which may be a factor hindering the development of life elsewhere in our Galaxy.”

    This is an example of the loose prosaic science writing that has evolved over the last quarter century or so -prosaic in that it is gratuitous and, in a strict sense, wrong. This type of sentence with the facts in the first half and then a fatuous clause to make it seem more ‘knowledgeable’ and ‘interesting’ litter articles and news.

    Let me inform the author(s) categorically (and I’m not even a physicist) that it is NOT a ‘factor’ in hindering your forceful little creatures from sprouting out. There are billions of stars out there and because more intense mag phenomena have been detected on a few thousand other stars… blah blah. Also,were all that were studied more intense than our sun? I think I can answer that with a no, too. If it were the case, we would have heralded the discovery of this special feature of our sun that makes it unique and used the ‘phenomena’ to assess other planetary environments outside our system. It would appear that life out there is scarce. Some think we are the accidental (or otherwise) exception. The topic here is sunspots, ladies and gentlemen and it is an abuse of your station as scientists to blather about such other remote matters – a disease I thought to be climate science style.

    Now let me look at the the next sentence…..

  20. Gary, it IS the station of scientists to be exceedingly curious about what they don’t know. Indeed, it is the very beginning of the gold standard scientific method to be first and foremost curious. Followed by observations, thence planned experiments, results, conclusions, and then…wait for it…curiosity. Else science is a dead end road.

  21. Pamela Gray says:
    June 4, 2014 at 7:08 am

    ”Gary, it IS the station of scientists to be exceedingly curious about what they don’t know.”

    Your simplistic statement is correct, but that is not the topic of my blurb (re-read the whole). If you think it is the topic, then Pamela, what is the limit? Should a solar scientist be extrapolating as to why egg yokes, sugar, salt, mustard and vinegar can be whipped into mayonnaise? or why my grandson sleeps in on school mornings? Are all suns in our galaxy WITHOUT EXCEPTION fitted with stronger mag phenomena than our own? That’s what he (she) is saying whether he (she) knows it or not. That would be newsworthy and a comment on life environments appropriate. If not, reread my blurb.

  22. Gary Pearse says:
    June 4, 2014 at 7:57 am
    Are all suns in our galaxy WITHOUT EXCEPTION fitted with stronger mag phenomena than our own?
    No, but something like 80% of them are ‘red dwarfs’ and much dimmer than the sun. Their habitable zone is thus MUCH closer to the star and so close in that the magnetized stellar wind makes for a very hostile environment, possibly excluding life as we know it. But that still leaves some billions of ‘normal’ stars around which life is possible.

  23. The most significant UV emissions and violent motion are observed above the area where the penumbra intrudes into the umbra, the so-called “light bridge.” It is likely that this effect is related to anomalies in the sunspot’s magnetic topology, and requires further investigation. Some of the most dramatic events are high-speed plasma jets originating from the penumbra, as well as the apparent chromospheric accretion of dense plasma sheets into the sunspot. The origin of the accretion flows is another puzzle.

    So UV emissions are significant around the spots => more spots, more UV => less spots, less UV.

    Why is the origin of the accretion flow a puzzle? Why does not the current model tell them?

  24. The standard solar model is derived from fundamental physical processes and is amply verified by observations [helioseismology, neutrino flux, etc].

    It does not agree with neutrino flux. The flux is half what was predicted. In order to get around that, physicists have assumed that neutrinos change their flavor without testing the flux closer to the sun.

  25. Anything in this new information that leads you to any new or different thoughts or concepts regarding structure or dynnamics of our Sun?

    Jim G

  26. Alex E says:
    June 4, 2014 at 8:22 am
    It does not agree with neutrino flux. The flux is half what was predicted.
    Your ‘info’ is outdated. The reason for the discrepancy is that the old detector was no sensitive to all ‘flavors’ of neutrinos. New detectors are and they measured precisely what is predicted.

    http://math.ucr.edu/home/baez/physics/ParticleAndNuclear/solar_neutrino.html

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_neutrino_problem

    http://www.arts.cornell.edu/knight_institute/publicationsprizes/discoveries/discoveriesfall1997/10elizabethbarrett.pdf

  27. lsvalgaard says:

    Forgot to address this question to you. Anything in this new information that leads you to any new or different thoughts or concepts regarding structure or dynnamics of our Sun?

    Jim G

  28. Leif says:
    “Explaining the data is the gold standard by which any model must be judged”
    <<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

    Well put. I never cease to be surprised when I encounter a “scientist” who does not grasp this essential principle. But there are lots of this kind.

  29. The surface of the sun has 27X the gravity as on Earth and a highly ionic liquid is more akin to melted glass than an type of roiling ocean, so I’m not surprised a falling flare doesn’t create a big splash like it would on our small planet ocean.

    In climate model skepticism we’re whistleblowers helping expose bias and fraud, but claiming other fields are just as corrupted is not a winning strategy for doing that since it makes us come off as mere mavericks rather than serious critiques.

    I’m delighted Leif has stated such a strong opinion here, as the notorious iron sun maverick himself who was properly banned here is now the regular early bird each day on Steve Goddard’s blog, lamentably.

    Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.

    -=NikFromNYC=-, Ph.D. in carbon chemistry (Columbia/Harvard)

  30. comment to NikfromNYC 9.12
    You missed the points – there are hugh differences in quality of papers presented by Leif and those by all so could scholars who study carbon chemistry no matter if in Columbia/Harvard or elsewhere:
    Two things Leif acknowledge are that good skills in Theories of Science is needed as well as trying to find ALL factors that’s needed for a model to be sound to use.

    The CO2 papers, studies and so on presented the last 30 years all lack almost all of the factors involved in the complexity to build a sound computer model for a thesis to be possible to hold water. As most all figures and premisses needing to be true at the same time for each part of the “proof” of a Thesis be presented and possible to duplicate in order to reach same result.

    Leif might be right or wrong in his papers and statements. That’s not the point. The point is that he contrary to CO-2 alarmist acknowledge what’s needed for a scholar to be true to science he or she study – you can’t correct figures nor can you use circle proofs nor is you adviced to use Fallacies in your argumentation. That’s the problem every CO2-alarmist paper, study etc have had. thus the models doesn¨t hold water.

  31. lsvalgaard says:
    June 3, 2014 at 8:29 pm
    The current emphasis is …
    ———
    A slip of the fingers – you didn’t of course mean ‘electric currents’ did you :-)

  32. norah4you: For me “the issue” is signal versus noise in a culture war, and this thread is mostly the type of noise that helps activists successfully stereotype skeptics as being dilettantes unworthy of even being heard. The nature of the sun, a lot like the nature of protein folding or the structure of nanotubes is basic everyday hard science done by people very much divorced from the climate debate, except that is on the skeptical side where now every attention grubbing crackpot smart enough to spot the climate scam have jumped on board.

  33. Your ‘info’ is outdated. The reason for the discrepancy is that the old detector was no sensitive to all ‘flavors’ of neutrinos. New detectors are and they measured precisely what is predicted.

    no I’m aware of that data. Here is my point. Physicists have latched on to the idea that the missing neutrinos have changed into mu and tau flavors, but they have done so without verifying the neutrino flux anywhere else in the solar system. They assume the sun doesn’t produce mu and tau neutrinos, do not test this hypothesis, then claim the mu & tau neutrinos they detect are the source the discrepancy. If the electron neutrinos can oscillate into the other varieties, the other varieties can oscillate into electron neutrinos. The sun could be making mu and tau neutrinos which are oscillating into electron neutrinos.

    They have fundamentally skipped a step. If oscillation is now a given fact, it must be proven that the sun does not produce mu & tau flavored neutrinos.

  34. Alex, your post and this hot drought is making me thirsty for Hawaiian frozen drinks. If they haven’t named a drink “Mu” or “Tau”, they should.

  35. Alex E says:
    June 4, 2014 at 5:05 pm
    Physicists have latched on to the idea that the missing neutrinos have changed into mu and tau flavors, but they have done so without verifying the neutrino flux anywhere else in the solar system…. it must be proven that the sun does not produce mu & tau flavored neutrinos
    The nuclear reactions in the sun [which we can replicate in the laboratory] only produce electron neutrinos, so no assumptions here. We can also produce electron neutrinos in nuclear reactors on the Earth and shoot them to the detectors hundreds of kilometers away and directly observe now the neutrinos change flavor. Everything checks out as it should and there is no mystery, but instead an impressive confirmation of the standard solar model. Which other one(s) of the proposed alternative models produces neutrinos that fits the observations?

  36. Here is how a beam of neutrinos is made, shot right through concrete and beyond, with no way to steer them except by steering the original beam of protons:

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