For 400 years’ folks have tracked sunspots, the dark patches that appear for weeks at a time on the sun’s surface. They’ve noticed however been unable to explain why the number of spots peaks every 11 years.
A University of Washington research published this month within the journal Physics of Plasmas proposes a model of plasma movement that may clarify the 11-year sunspot cycle and several other previously mysterious properties of the sun.
Their model is different from a normal picture of the sun, mentioned first author Thomas Jarboe, a UW professor of aeronautics and astronautics. He thinks we are the first people that are telling the nature and source of solar magnetic phenomena how the sun works.
The authors created a model primarily based on their previous work with fusion energy research. The model reveals that a thin layer beneath the sun’s surface is key to lots of the features we see from Earth, like sunspots, magnetic reversals, and solar flow, and is backed up by comparisons with observations of the sun.
The observational data are key to confirming the image of how the sun functions, Jarboe mentioned.
In the new model, a thin layer of magnetic flux and plasma, or free-floating electrons, moves at different speeds on different elements of the sun. The difference in speed between the flows creates twists of magnetism, referred to as magnetic helicity, which is similar to what happens in some fusion reactor concepts.