Solving the Scorching Mystery of the Sun’s Erupting Plasma Jets

Powerful magnetic fields are created in the interior of the sun. There, the high density keeps them tangled and tamed. But near the surface, the magnetic fields can use neutral particles, atoms that do not carry an electric charge, to diffuse into the sun’s atmosphere. The fields enter a reddish layer called the chromosphere where their violent nature is unleashed.


Jets of solar material called spicules shoot out from the sun.

NASA IRIS spectrograph, Bifrost code developed at the University of Oslo, and and Swedish 1-m Solar Telescope

“It’s a sling shot effect,” said Mats Carlsson, a professor of astrophysics at the University of Oslo in Norway, and co-author of the paper.

The density in the chromosphere is significantly lower than in the sun’s interior, so the magnetic fields are no longer suppressed and are able to straighten out. As they unwind and release their tension, they fling hot plasma at incredible speeds, creating the spicules. The spicules surge thousands of miles high, passing through the chromosphere and into the sun’s corona before collapsing.

To create a computer simulation that accurately reflected what was happening on the sun, Dr. Carlsson said they needed to incorporate the effects of neutral particles. In earlier simulations they did not differentiate neutral particles from charged particles in the sun. Those models made it seem as if the edge between the sun’s atmosphere and surface was fully electrically charged.

“We had an absence of spicules,” said Dr. Carlsson. “In our previous model we had one instead of the millions you have in the sun.”

But when they plugged distinct neutral particles into their simulation, they produced a model that had the same features seen on the sun.

Juan Martínez-Sykora, an astrophysicist with Lockheed Martin as well as the Bay Area…

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