While solar eruptions might be something that most people are familiar with, a failed solar eruption seems too bizarre a concept to even comprehend. That hasn’t, however, deterred researchers from capturing this once-in-a-lifetime moment for the very first time, confirming speculations that have long been making the rounds in the scientific world.
For the uninitiated, solar flares (or eruptions) are the result of sudden release of magnetic energy build-ups from the sun’s surface. In some rare cases, these eruptions get abruptly terminated when there’s a dynamic magnetic tension force at play. To capture this phenomenon, the team of scientists had to rely on a number of highly-advanced NASA instruments, including the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) and the VAULT2.0 sounding rocket.
A sub-orbital rocket that circles the Earth’s atmosphere for about 20 minutes to gather readings, VAULT2.0 was set to focus on a spot on the sun’s surface undergoing intense magnetic activity. According to the researchers, such heightened activities are chiefly what cause coronal mass ejections. The team had originally set out to capture a regular solar eruption.
Things didn’t, however, go as planned. As observed by the scientists, the flare started off normally with dense solar material just starting to emanate from the surface. Almost immediately, it collapsed into itself. Speaking about the momentous feat, which marks the first time that researchers have been able to record a failed solar eruption, Angelos Vourlidas, an astrophysicist at John Hopkins University, said, “We were expecting an eruption; this was the most active region on the Sun that day. We saw the filament lifting with IRIS [NASA’s Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph], but we didn’t see it erupt in SDO or in the coronagraphs. That’s how we knew it failed.”
As part of the research, the team has also come up with a model that attempts to explain how solar flares sometimes fail to erupt. Harvard professor Antonia Savcheva added, “We computed the Sun’s magnetic environment by tracing millions of magnetic field lines and looking at how neighboring field lines connect and diverge. The amount of divergence gives us a measure of the topology.”
Hyperbolic Flux Tube And Failed Solar Eruption
As predicted by the model, the right magnetic structure could act as a boundary of sorts, preventing the solar eruption from getting released. Known as hyperbolic flux tube, the boundary could be created due to collision between two or more bipolar regions on the sun’s surface. If that were to happen, it would look similar to when two igloos get smashed against one another.
The collision, according to the scientists, would, in turn, result in the dissipation of the pent-up heat and energy from the filament back into the solar atmosphere. Georgios Chintzoglou, a solar physicist at Palo Alto’s Lockheed Martin Solar and Astrophysics Laboratory, stated, “The hyperbolic flux tube breaks the filament’s magnetic field lines and reconnects them with those of the ambient Sun… so that the filament’s magnetic energy is stripped away.”
The team is currently looking to collect information that could back the hypothesis. Commenting on the findings, which appeared last month in The Astrophysical Journal, Chintzoglou added, “Most research has gone into how topology helps eruptions escape. But this tells us that apart from the solar eruption mechanism, we also need to consider what the nascent structure encounters in the beginning, and how it might be stopped.”