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Solar Physics

Our Sun is a star made of hot plasma (ionised gas) and is threaded by a strong magnetic field.

Intriguingly, the Sun’s outer atmosphere (corona) is hotter than its surface (photosphere). Moving radially outwards from the photosphere, the temperature first drops to a minimum (in a layer called the chromosphere) then rises rapidly (transition region) and ultimately connects to the corona. The energy for this extreme atmospheric heating is proposed to come from convective motions beneath the solar surface, which transfer energy to the magnetic field by stressing and straining it. A number of theories suggest the transferred energy is released in different ways, namely, the release of built-up magnetic tension through reconnection (the breaking and reconnecting of magnetic field) and the dissipation of magnetic waves.  

Magnetohydrodynamics (MHD) is the study of magnetic fluids and gives a good description of the dynamics of the Sun’s atmosphere. MHD wave theory is a rich and fascinating area of study because, by the nature of the supporting plasma, it is based on the interplay of three different modes, namely Alfvén, fast and slow magnetoacoustic waves. The group is particularly interested in MHD wave propagation in inhomogeneous media. High-resolution observations reveal dynamic behaviour and magnetic waves throughout all layers of the Sun’s atmosphere. 

The photosphere, transition region and corona are well studied but, due to historical observational difficulties and its physical complexity, less attention has been given to the chromosphere. In addition, chromospheric plasma is only partially ionised (not all electrons have been stripped from their nuclei) and so its properties are very different to those of the other layers. We study the physics of the chromosphere using advanced computational models, large-scale simulations and solar observations. A detailed understanding of the chromosphere is important because it couples and regulates the photosphere (below) and transition region (above).  

Our research investigates fundamental questions in Solar Physics using advanced mathematical techniques and cutting-edge computer simulations, including the use of high-performance computing. We also exploit the latest high-resolution data taken with international ground-based and spaced-based instruments to study the dynamical events occurring in the solar atmosphere.  

Academic Staff: Professor James McLaughlin; Professor Valentina Zharkova; Dr Shaun Bloomfield; Dr Gert Botha; Dr Richard Morton; Dr Stephane Regnier; Dr Eamon ScullionDr Sergiy Shelyag

Further Information: please contact Professor James McLaughlin 

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