From New York University: Researchers create ‘MRI’ of the sun’s interior motions
A team of scientists has created an “MRI” of the Sun’s interior plasma motions, shedding light on how it transfers heat from its deep interior to its surface. The result, which appears in the journal the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, upends our understanding of how heat is transported outwards by the Sun and challenges existing explanations of the formation of sunspots and magnetic field generation.
The Sun’s heat, generated by nuclear fusion in its core, is transported to the surface by convection in the outer third. However, our understanding of this process is largely theoretical—the Sun is opaque, so convection cannot be directly observed. As a result, theories largely rest on what we know about fluid flow and then applying them to the Sun, which is primarily composed of hydrogen, helium, and plasma.
Developing a more precise grasp of convection is vital to comprehending a range of phenomena, including the formation of sunspots, which have a lower temperature than the rest of the Sun’s surface, and the Sun’s magnetic field, which is created by its interior plasma motions.
In order to develop their “MRI” of the Sun’s plasma flows, the researchers examined high-resolution images of the Sun’s surface taken by the Helioseismic and Magnetic Imager (HMI) onboard NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory. Using a 16-million pixel camera, HMI measures motions on the Sun’s surface caused by convection.
Once the scientists captured the precise movement waves on the Sun’s surface, they were able to calculate its unseen plasma motions. This procedure is not unlike measuring the strength and direction of an ocean’s current by monitoring the time it takes a swimmer to move across the water—currents moving against the swimmer will result in slower times while those going in the same direction will produce faster times, with stronger and weaker currents enhancing or diminishing the impact on the swimmer.
What they found significantly departed from existing theory–specifically, the speed of the Sun’s plasma motions were approximately 100 times slower than scientists had previously projected.
“Our current theoretical understanding of magnetic field generation in the Sun relies on these motions being of a certain magnitude,” explained Shravan Hanasoge, an associate research scholar in geosciences at Princeton University and a visiting scholar at NYU’s Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences. “These convective motions are currently believed to prop up large-scale circulations in the outer third of the Sun that generate magnetic fields.”
“However, our results suggest that convective motions in the Sun are nearly 100 times smaller than these current theoretical expectations,” continued Hanasoge, also a postdoctoral fellow at the Max Plank Institute in Katlenburg-Lindau, Germany. “If these motions are indeed that slow in the Sun, then the most widely accepted theory concerning the generation of solar magnetic field is broken, leaving us with no compelling theory to explain its generation of magnetic fields and the need to overhaul our understanding of the physics of the Sun’s interior.”
The study’s other co-authors were Thomas Duvall, an astrophysicist at NASA, and Katepalli Sreenivasan, University Professor in NYU’s Department of Physics and Courant Institute. Sreenivasan is also Senior Vice Provost for Science and Technology for the Global Network University at NYU and Provost of Polytechnic Institute of NYU.
ANOMALOUSLY WEAK SOLAR CONVECTION
Shravan M. Hanasoge y and Thomas L. Duvall, Jr. z and Katepalli R. Sreenivasan
Convection in the solar interior is thought to comprise structures on a spectrum of scales. This conclusion emerges from phenomenological studies and numerical simulations, though neither covers the proper range of dynamical parameters of solar convection. Here, we analyze observations of the wavefield in the solar photosphere using techniques of time-distance helioseismology to image flows in the solar interior. We downsample and synthesize 900 billion wave-feld observations to produce 3 billion cross-correlations, which we average and fit, measuring 5 million wave travel times. Using these travel times, we deduce the underlying flow systems and study their statistics to bound convective velocity magnitudes in the solar interior, as a function of depth and spherical-harmonic degree l. Within the wavenumber band l < 60, Convective velocities are 20-100 times weaker than current theoretical estimates. This suggests the prevalence of a different paradigm of turbulence from that predicted by existing models, prompting the question: what mechanism transports the heat ux of a solar luminosity outwards? Advection is dominated by Coriolis forces for wavenumbers l< 60, with Rossby numbers smaller than ~10-2 at r/Rθ= 0.96, suggesting that the Sun may be a much faster rotator than previously thought, and that large-scale convection may be quasi-geostrophic. The fact that iso-rotation contours in the Sun are not co-aligned with the axis of rotation suggests the presence of a latitudinal entropy gradient.
paper here: http://arxiv.org/pdf/1206.3173.pdf