An experiment carried out at the National Laboratory of High Power Laser Physics in China was able to measure the acceleration of electrons in a magnetic reconnection. The aim of the study is to simulate events that produce explosions on the Sun and send magnetic storms to Earth.
- Sun may have helped form “halo” of interstellar objects
- New method can predict solar storms farther in advance
Scientists still don’t understand very well the processes that occur on the solar surface and that send charged particles in our direction. However, the most accepted explanation is that one of the main mechanisms of this phenomenon is magnetic reconnection.
According to the Chinese team, “recent observations from the Parker Solar spacecraft, the Solar Dynamics Observatory spacecraft and from in situ satellite missions agree with the expected signatures of the turbulent reconnection; however, the underlying mechanisms, including how magnetic energy stored in the Sun’s magnetic field is dissipated, remain unclear.”
These reconnection events occur when two magnetic fields of the Sun — which has a lot of them — collide, releasing huge amounts of radiation from across the electromagnetic spectrum, ranging from radio waves to gamma rays.
When observed by ground-based scientific instruments, solar flares appear as bright areas on the Sun that last from a few minutes to a few hours. Several studies have already shown that these solar flares can affect the functioning of our electronic systems.
To prevent disasters, scientists want to understand even more how solar flares form. The ultimate goal is to be able to predict them early enough so that those responsible for the systems in question can prepare for more intense and dangerous explosions.
In the recent study, the researchers decided to produce a magnetic reconnection artificially, in the laboratory, in contrast to the studies of direct observation of the Sun done so far.
The Chinese team recreated the magnetic reconnection process on a small scale, using just four high-powered lasers and a piece of aluminum foil. Upon activating the device, they observed the generation of plasma bubbles and, as they grew, they collided with each other.
This process produced a magnetic reconnection that the researchers were able to measure and track the energy levels in the plasma, as well as the rate at which they accelerated. The data obtained should be useful to better understand these components on the surface of the Sun when flares appear.
The authors suggest that recreating events in the laboratory, through simulations, will allow the construction of more reliable models to predict solar events more effectively than models based purely on observation.
In total, three papers were published in the journal Nature Physics to describe the results of the experiment. One by the Chinese team, another by an international team at the University of Rochester, and the third by Giovanni Lapenta of the University of Leuven, who published a paper describing the two previous studies.
Source: Nature Physics (1, 2, 3); Via: Phys.org