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Scientists have discovered strange finger-like features in solar flare activity

By: April Carson

Scientists noticed strange motions within a solar flare in January 1999. When the solar flare erupted upward from active region 9393, it formed a strange pattern of finger-like structures. Researchers say this is an odd observation given that most flows in complex situations are chaotic, without any discernible patterns.

This solar flare, unlike traditional flares that radiate outward energy, also exhibited a downward movement of material, as though stuff is cascading back towards the Sun. Observations were termed "downward-moving dark voids," and scientists sought to determine what they were observing.

They detected a pattern of bright jets that appeared to be flowing from the center towards the Sun's surface. A jet was also seen after a solar flare erupted, traveling westwards at a velocity of 200 kilometers per second. By using images taken by different satellites and comparing these with computer simulations, scientists think they have found what causes these strange finger-like flares.

"We were looking for answers to two related questions," says CfA astronomer Chengcai Shen, who refers to the features as "dark finger-like structures." "What's causing them and are they truly connected to magnetic reconnection?"

Magnetic reconnection is a process in which the magnetic energy stored in the solar atmosphere is converted into heat and kinetic energy.

Since the 1990s, scientists have postulated that SADs are linked to magnetic reconnection. Magnetic fields break and then reform as a result of this procedure, which occurs when they break.

"On the Sun, things occur in a very different way. You have a lot of magnetic fields that are pointing in all sorts of directions. The magnetic fields are eventually pushed together to the point where they reconfigure and unleash a tremendous amount of energy as a solar flare," says Reeves, who is also an astronomer at the CfA.

"It's like stretching out a rubber band and snipping it in the middle," says Reeve. "It's stretched tense and thin, so it'll snap back again."

After a solar flare, scientists believed that the dark downflows were evidence of the Sun's magnetic fields "snapping back."

The majority of the downflows that researchers have discovered are "mysteriously slow," according to co-author Bin Chen, an astronomy professor at New Jersey Institute of Technology.

"This isn't predicted by previous reconnection theories, which predict downflows to happen much faster. It's a contradiction that requires an additional explanation," says Shen.

The researchers used images from NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory's Atmospheric Imaging Assembly (AIA) to find out what was up. The AIA takes photos of the Sun in seven different wavelengths of light every twelve seconds, allowing scientists to analyze changes in the Sun's atmosphere.

They next made 3D simulations of solar flares and compared them to the data, which they generated themselves. AIA is so fast that it can actually take images of the same bit of solar atmosphere every 12 seconds.

The findings reveal that most SADs are not caused by magnetic reconnection. Instead, they develop in the turbulent environment and are due to fluids of different densities interacting.

According to Reeves, scientists are seeing the same thing that happens when water and oil are combined together: the two different fluid densities are inherently unstable and eventually separate.

"Those finger-like voids are really an absence of plasma. The density is lower there than in the surrounding plasma," Reeves explains. "That's not reconnection. That is the most stable state, when you have two fluids of different density placed in proximity."

The group aims to continue researching SADs and other solar phenomena using 3D simulations to better understand magnetic reconnection. They may ultimately be used to create tools that can forecast space weather and avoid its consequences if they understand the mechanisms that drive solar flares and eruptions from the Sun.

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About the Blogger:

April Carson is the daughter of Billy Carson. She received her bachelor's degree in Social Sciences from Jacksonville University, where she was also on the Women's Basketball team. She now has a successful clothing company that specializes in organic baby clothes and other items. Take a look at their most popular fall fashions on

To read more of April's blogs, check out her website! She publishes new blogs on a daily basis, including the most helpful mommy advice and baby care tips! Follow on IG @bossbabymav



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