An important research project, led by the UK's University of Dundee, aims to improve knowledge of Sun's complex magnetic fields using mathematics. The goal is to find out the effects of space weather caused by the Sun and its magnetic structures origins.
"There is a growing appreciation of the effect that solar weather, including events such as solar flares and coronal mass ejections (CMEs), has on the Earth and our atmosphere," said Professor Gunnar Hornig, of the Magnetohydrodynamics Group at the University of Dundee. "These powerful explosions lead to major space weather events at Earth, creating the Northern and Southern lights but also having the potential for damaging economic impacts on engineered systems, ranging from satellites and communication systems to power grids and pipelines."
"However, we do not as yet have a deep understanding of the dynamic behaviour of the Sun's magnetic field, which is a major factor in causing these events. It is becoming apparent that forecasting the occurrence and impact of space weather events cannot rely on static extrapolation models but requires a deep understanding of the behaviour of the magnetic field."
As awareness of solar flares and CME effects on Earth's magnetic field has grown in recent years, so does the necessary scrutiny of the space weather research. In the United Kingdom, solar storms are now in the National Risk Register of Civil Emergencies and the Met Office is the supplier of the space weather forecasts. To recall history, geomagnetic storm observations began in England back in 1859, when Carrington event occurred.
The Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) has awarded a £700 000 grant to Professor Horning and Dr David Pontin in the School of Science and Engineering at Dundee, working with collaborators at the University of Durham, for their study "Dynamics of Complex Magnetic Fields: From the corona to the solar wind." The grant will fund the project for the next three years and allow the recruitment of two full-time postdoctoral research posts in Dundee.
The aim of the research is to gather knowledge about the structure and dynamics in the Sun's outer atmosphere, which is extending beyond Earth itself. The research also serves part of the wider goal, targeting the scientific community, to give answers to the STFC's Science Roadmap Challenge: "How does the Sun influence the environment of the Earth and the rest of the Solar System?"
The Dundee and Durham team will have numerical simulations and mathematical modelling at their disposal to combine with each other to reveal the mystery behind the Sun's magnetic fields and their effects on the Earth. Furthermore, modelling takes the input from the latest generation of solar telescopes, with observations used to validate the output. Research includes a variety of tests, from global simulations to the predictions of slow solar winds.
"Combined, the results will help to predict and explain events in the solar corona and help us understand some of the basic plasma physical processes that go on throughout the Universe," said Dr David Pontin, joint lead on the project at the University of Dundee.
Source: University of Dundee
Featured image: Earth's size comparison to the Sun. Credit: NASA SDO
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