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Magnetic 'Braids' May Cook the Sun's Corona

Soulskill posted about 2 years ago | from the i-would-like-mine-medium-rare-please dept.

Space 32

astroengine writes "Scientists have long puzzled over why the surface of the sun is cooler than its corona, the outer hazy atmosphere visible during a solar eclipse. Now, thanks to a five-minute observation by a small, but very high-resolution ultraviolet telescope, they have some answers. Hi-C, which was launched aboard a suborbital rocket to study the sun without interference from Earth's atmosphere, revealed interwoven magnetic fields braided like hair. When the braids relaxed, they released energy, heating the corona (abstract). 'I had no idea we would see structures like that in the corona. Seeing these braids was very new to me,' astrophysicist Jonathan Cirtain with NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., told Discovery News."

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Cooking the sun is like... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42672873)

soaking the ocean. ;-)

sounds like... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42672891)

The recipe for a superweapon.

Re:sounds like... (3, Interesting)

Immerman (2627577) | about 2 years ago | (#42673023)

Or the neurons of a sun-spanning super-mind.

New energy source? (1)

sinij (911942) | about 2 years ago | (#42672895)

I am not sure about underlying physical law of these "braids", but can this effect be harnessed to produce energy? We do have technology to produce strong magnetic fields.

Yes. (4, Informative)

earls (1367951) | about 2 years ago | (#42672961)

As soon as fusion is mastered. These braids are just moderating the release of energy from the star.

Re:Yes. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42674857)

We have H-bombs since half a century and fusors for almost as long. Fusion is mastered.

Re:Yes. (2)

Your.Master (1088569) | about 2 years ago | (#42675127)

That's like saying fire is mastered because we know how to light a match and drop it on the forest floor.

You know that mastering fusion, in this context -- the context of producing energy -- means being able to safely control a fusion reaction with nontrivial net usable energy output. Right now, fusors do the safe control and H-bombs do the net energy output, but we don't have something that does both at once.

Re:Yes. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42675757)

We've also mastered antimatter, as it has been produced for decades now too. So we can just skip the whole fusion thing. On second thought, we've massed zero point energy as the Casimir effect has been around for some time too. If only some company would just start making it. Of course people will complain that there are no known current ways to get usable energy out of any of those, but just like the First CityWide Change Bank, they can make up for that with volume.

Re:Yes. (1)

rwa2 (4391) | about 2 years ago | (#42693617)

I'm guessing the magnetic braids are somewhat similar to the fields used to contain the plasma in a fusion reactor. []

IANANP, but my armchair physicist understanding of fusion reactor containment is that you can't easily control the high energy neutrons in a hot plasma, just the protons. So the magnetic field is kind of a way to at least make the protons flow around in the plasma without touching the walls (and thus melting them). And perhaps they also help corral the neutrons and other high energy matter that aren't affected by electromagnetic interactions. Every once in a while a neutron manages to get free of the container, hits the wall, and releases a lot of heat energy into the wall that would be used to drive a steam turbine.

But I find it interesting that the sun likely seems to have a similar magnetic container in the corona that prevents too much energy from escaping... it's not simply a strong gravitational well that prevents all of the energy of the sun from evaporating out into space inefficiently.

Re:New energy source? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42672981)

You will never get out more energy than you originally used to create the fields.

Re:New energy source? (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42673017)

Conservation of Energy says no... if you make a magnetic field you get at most, in a perfect world, as much as energy back as you spent making the field. Positive energy production only comes from reduction of potential energy (lost mass, broken chemical bonds, etc.). If you aren't destroying something your not getting energy out.

Re:New energy source? (1)

Your.Master (1088569) | about 2 years ago | (#42675201)

[...] broken chemical bonds, etc.). If you aren't destroying something your not getting energy out.

I hope I'm not being too pedantic here, but this isn't right. Adding chemical bonds is more likely to release energy than breaking them, so creating something is how you get the energy out of it, not destroying something.

A chemical bond that would release energy when it broke is an unstable bond so it's less likely to be found than a structure who could release energy by adding a chemical bond but hasn't had those circumstances occur. These unstable bonds were probably been formed in an environment with an excess of energy compared to the current one that's releasing it.

Re:New energy source? (4, Insightful)

vlm (69642) | about 2 years ago | (#42673163)

Other way around. Plasmas are unstable. Pretty much any time you dump energy into them, they get all whacked out on a small scale. This specific mode of instability on the sun wasn't expected, and it might even be a totally new instability mode, but speaking generally "plasmas behaving badly when you pump energy into them" has been a bug for fusion research for a very long time. You want the energy to be smoothly stable in the plasma not some whacked out thing because whacked out things tend to locally adsorb the energy from a big region, concentrate it in a little area getting hotter and hotter, which exceeds and breaks containment in its local area, end result is the plasma energy gets dumped into the diverter (or worst case, wall).

Crappy cooking analogy is when you're melting chocolate and the chocolate instead of being smooth thru the entire bowl suddenly phase transitions (more or less) and siezes into ... whatever the hell siezed chocolate is. Crystallized chocolate I guess.. Whoops. Or you're trying to make a nice mayonnaise emulsion but something keeps breaking the F-ing emulsion so you just get icky oil and water instead of a bucket of mayo. Now I'm getting hungry...

Crappy /. car analogy is something like car engines produce the most energy when they burn real smoothly. Crazy ass detonations aka pinging ruins the smooth burning and although you get the same CO2 out the tailpipe, you get much less power at the crankshaft. You can fix that with water injection, or modify the compression ratio, cool the intake air, or clean the cylinder/head walls if they're coated with soot... all stuff you can't do in a reactor. More or less.

Re:New energy source? (1)

cusco (717999) | about 2 years ago | (#42674489)

In fusion they need the plasma to be stable because the magnetic confinement can't adapt to deal with an unstable area. I wonder if "braided" magnetic fields (whatever the heck that actually means) would be more resilient, in the way that a basket can support an egg that would just fall through a layer of unwoven grass.

Re:New energy source? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42674729)

In fusion they need the plasma to be stable because the magnetic confinement can't adapt to deal with an unstable area.

Depends on which instability you are talking about. There is quite a bit of research into active feedback systems to stop certain kinds of instabilities, some of which are pretty straightforward and have already been control via active feedback for more than a decade. Other kinds of instabilities need to be prevented in the first place, because they are too big or too fast to be directly managed.

I wonder if "braided" magnetic fields (whatever the heck that actually means) would be more resilient,

The problem probably will be that they can rearrange themselves. The resistive time of the corona is really long, so it takes a while for magnetic field lines in the plasma to move around and reconnect, whereas the parameters for most fusion reactors would have really short times that allow plasma to not be as well bound to magnetic field lines and/or for the field lines to untwist. It doesn't help that heat typically flows better along field lines than across them, so if you end up with too much of a mess of twisted field lines, you are giving paths for the heat from core to the edge of the plasma. Although there are some confinement concepts that are trying to deal with such cases (e.g. RFP), many others would take a massive hit to efficiency and ability to confine heat in the plasma.

Re:New energy source? (1)

mdielmann (514750) | about 2 years ago | (#42675167)

In fusion they need the plasma to be stable because the magnetic confinement can't adapt to deal with an unstable area. I wonder if "braided" magnetic fields (whatever the heck that actually means) would be more resilient, in the way that a basket can support an egg that would just fall through a layer of unwoven grass.

I really hope you're right, and it's not more like "Well, fusion is really messy and creates weird artifacts, and the only realistic way to contain it is a whole lot of vacuum, and enough mass to keep most of the reaction going with the occasional containment breach. Also known as a star, with solar flares."

Re:New energy source? (1)

StuartHankins (1020819) | about 2 years ago | (#42680315)

I think now you're getting somewhere. I'm not up to date with current technology but it doesn't seem far-fetched that combining magnetism as a method of confinement with fusion reactions is an evolution in that science. Stepping further, perhaps magnetism could be used as a method of direction of force, or even a method of concentration of force (an additive property rather than just a buffering property).

But what do I know, I'm not a nuclear physicist... perhaps this is all old hat.

Re:New energy source? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42676863)

Maxwell s Equations pretty much have the braids covered.

Plasma dreads (0)

eksith (2776419) | about 2 years ago | (#42672899)

Drop it like it's hot

HI-C (2, Funny)

schneidafunk (795759) | about 2 years ago | (#42672923)

When I'm out in the sun, I love me some hi-c, or corona.

Re:HI-C (1)

dkleinsc (563838) | about 2 years ago | (#42673133)

And here I was thinking the next probe was going to be named "Hawaiian Punch".

Corona? (2)

canderley (1234622) | about 2 years ago | (#42673079)

How many limes is it going to take to make it taste better?

Also proves (4, Funny)

sl4shd0rk (755837) | about 2 years ago | (#42673193)

The Sun is Jamaican

If only! (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42673241)

My father was an astro-geophysicist of some note, who specialized in the solar corona. Unfortunately, he passed away in the early 1990's, but he would have been THRILLED with these observations! Some of my best remembrances of him are his solar corona photos taken during a sabatical at the observatory at Haleakala on Maui in the 1980's. Today they occupy a place of honor on our family wall of photos.

Re:If only! (2)

ozduo (2043408) | about 2 years ago | (#42673601)

If only my father had been rich and smart, I could spend all day blogging here instead of working for a living!

Re:If only! (1)

emorning (2465220) | about 2 years ago | (#42673829)

Just rich would suffice...

Offtopic but cool video of the Sun (4, Interesting)

riverat1 (1048260) | about 2 years ago | (#42673893)

Last week the Astronomy Picture of the Day web site had this impressive video of the eruption of a solar prominence. If you haven't seen it you should check it out. []

Wait, not expected? (2)

Areyoukiddingme (1289470) | about 2 years ago | (#42675229)

I thought the braided magnetic fields in the corona were already known? Isn't that what the Electric Universe people are on about? I could swear I've even seen the word "braided" in the context of solar magnetic fields in print somewhere before. Something about why sunspot eruptions tend to arc, rather than simply flow out in a straight line (for big ones that should be achieving escape velocity), or the shape of the arc for smaller ones. The arcs are too small to be purely gravitational, and the reason is the plasma is following magnetic field lines.

Re:Wait, not expected? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42679983)

The idea that prominences and loops follow magnetic field lines has been known in mainstream plasma physics before the Electric Universe thing took off on its own path. This result probably represents more problems for Electric universe types instead of support, as they seem to deny magnetic reconnection, yet that would be central to how such structures could heat the corona.

Not braided (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42676253)

I just watched the video and they look twisted rather than braided.

Am I the only one ... (2)

MadMaverick9 (1470565) | about 2 years ago | (#42676927)

That read the title as: Magnetic "Brides" may cook ...

Sundiver (1)

nu1x (992092) | about 2 years ago | (#42677249)

Oh man, where is David Brin when you need him ? :P

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