Supercomputer simulations unlock old space weather puzzle

Scientists have long wondered why the sun’s blasts of hot gas may not cool as quickly as predicted and have now used a supercomputer to determine why.

As the solar wind reaches the Earth, it is nearly ten times hotter than predicted, ranging between 100,000 and 200,000 degrees Celsius. Solar wind originates in the sun’s outer atmosphere, which is usually a million degrees Celsius.

The team, led by University College London (UCL) researchers, deduced that the solar wind remains hot for longer periods of time as a result of small-scale magnetic reconnection that occurs during solar wind turbulence.

This effect happens as two competing magnetic field lines separate and rejoin, emitting enormous quantities of electricity. This is the same mechanism that results in the eruption of massive flares from the sun’s outer atmosphere.

“In the swirling solar wind, magnetic reconnection happens almost randomly and constantly. This method of reconnection usually happens over a distance of several hundred kilometers — a relatively small distance in comparison to the vastness of space. We have been able to solve this challenge in ways never seen before by harnessing the strength of supercomputers. Due to the complexity and asymmetry of the magnetic reconnection events observed in the simulation, we are continuing our study of these events “UCL’s Jefferson Agudelo is the lead reviewer.

The team will equate their data to that obtained by the European Space Agency’s (ESA) new flagship spacecraft, Solar Orbiter, to validate their predictions.

The Solar Orbiter’s task is to discover the sources and causes of the solar wind and to observe the solar system’s functioning.

“Combining massive plasma models with the most recent Solar Orbiter findings is an extremely exciting period. By integrating our simulations with new data from the Solar Orbiter, we may significantly advance our knowledge of reconnection and turbulence “Agudelo clarified.

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Written by Ankur J Kakoti


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