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An Overlooked Piece of the Solar Dynamo Puzzle

A previously unobserved mechanism is at work in the Sun’s rotating plasma: a magnetic instability, which scientists had thought was physically impossible under these conditions. The effect might even play a crucial role in the formation of the Sun’s magnetic field, say researchers from Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR), the University of Leeds and the Leibniz Institute for Astrophysics Potsdam (AIP) in the journal Physical Review Fluids.

Just like an enormous dynamo, the sun’s magnetic field is generated by electric currents. In order to better understand this self-reinforcing mechanism, researchers must elucidate the processes and flows in the solar plasma. Differing rotation speeds in different regions and complex flows in the sun’s interior combine to generate the magnetic field. In the process, unusual magnetic effects can occur – like this newly discovered magnetic instability.

Researchers have coined the term “Super HMRI” for this recently observed special case of magnetorotational instability (MRI). It is a magnetic mechanism that causes the rotating, electroconductive fluids and gases in a magnetic field to become unstable. What is special about this case is that the Super HMRI requires exactly the same conditions that prevail in the plasma close to the solar equator – the place where astrophysicists observe the most sunspots and, thus, the Sun’s greatest magnetic activity. So far, however, this instability in the Sun had gone completely unnoticed and is not yet integrated in models of the solar dynamo.

It is, nonetheless, known that magnetic instabilities are crucially involved in many processes in the universe. Stars and planets, for example, are generated by large rotating disks of dust and gas. In the absence of a magnetic field, this process would be inexplicable. Magnetic instabilities cause turbulence in the flows within the disks and thus enable the mass to agglomerate into a central object. Like a rubber band, the magnetic field connects neighboring layers that rotate at different speeds. It accelerates the slow particles of matter at the edges and slows down the fast ones on the inside. There the centrifugal force is not strong enough and the matter collapses into the center. Near the solar equator it behaves precisely the other way around. The inner layers move more slowly than the outer ones. Up to now, experts had considered this kind of flow profile to be physically extremely stable.

The researchers at HZDR, the University of Leeds and AIP still decided to investigate it more thoroughly. In the case of a circular magnetic field, they had already calculated that even when fluids and gases were rotating faster on the outside, magnetic instability could occur. However, only under unrealistic conditions: the rotational speed would have to increase too strongly towards the outer edge.

Trying another approach, they now based their investigations on a helical magnetic field. “We didn’t have any great expectations, but then we were in for a genuine surprise,” HZDR’s Dr. Frank Stefani remembers – because the magnetic instability can already occur when the speed between the rotating layers of plasma only increases slightly – which happens in the region of the Sun closest to the equator.

“This new instability could play an important role in generating the sun’s magnetic field,” Stefani estimates. “But in order to confirm it we first need to do further numerically complicated calculations.” Prof. Günther Rüdiger of AIP adds, “Astrophysicists and climate researchers still hope to better understand the cycle of sunspots. Perhaps the ‘Super HMRI’ we have now found will take us a decisive step forward. We’ll check it out.”

With its various specialisms in magnetohydrodynamics and astrophysics, the interdisciplinary research team has been investigating magnetic instabilities – in the lab, on paper and with the aid of sophisticated simulations – for more than 15 years. The scientists want to improve physical models, understand cosmic magnetic fields and develop innovative liquid metal batteries. Thanks to close cooperation, in 2006, they managed to experimentally prove the theory of magnetorotational instability for the first time. They are now planning the test for the special form they have predicted in theory: In a large-scale experiment that is currently being set up in the DRESDYN project at HZDR, they want to study this magnetic instability in the lab.

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ESPRESSO spectrograph confirms the existence of an earth-like planet near Proxima Centauri

The surface of Proxima b through the eyes of the artist ESO / M. Kornmesser

The ESPRESSO spectrograph confirmed the existence of the earth-like exoplanet Proxima b in the star closest to the Sun. Additional observations made by the tool made it possible to clarify its mass, as well as register a second signal, which theoretically can be explained by the presence of another planet. Accepted for publication at Astronomy & Astrophysics, the preprint is available at arXiv.org.

In 2016, astronomers reported the discovery of the planet at the red dwarf Proxima Centauri, the closest star to Earth, located about 4.2 light-years from Earth. The celestial body revolves around the star with a period of 11.2 days and is in the habitable zone – this means that the conditions on its surface allow the existence of liquid water.

The discovery of Proxima b was one of the most important milestones in exoplanetary astronomy in recent years, but the limited accuracy of the available measurements of radial velocity and the complexity of the simulation required confirmation of the existence of an earth-like planet.

An international group of astronomers used the new-generation spectrograph ESPRESSO, which is part of the VLT complex, to measure the radial velocity of a star with an accuracy of 30 centimeters per second. The data obtained were three times more accurate than the data of the HARPS spectrograph, an instrument of the same type, but of the previous generation, with the help of which the discovery was made. Combining ESPRESSO observations with past measurements showed that the mass of Proxima b is not less than 1.17 earth masses, which is less than the previous estimate of 1.27 earth masses.

In addition, scientists recorded an additional signal repeating with a period of 5.5 days, which so far they have not been able to explain. Hypothetically, it can come from the second planet: if the assumption is true, then its minimum mass is less than a third of the earth, and it is located at a distance of 0.03 astronomical units from Proxima Centauri (one astronomical unit is equal to the average distance from the Earth to the Sun).

In the past, researchers suspected the existence of another planet in the system – this time the super-earth, on which the year lasts about five years. It is five and a half times more massive than the Earth and may have rings similar to the rings of Saturn, but this discovery has not yet been confirmed.

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It’s time to worry. Planets switched to retrograde motion

© NASA / Tunc Tezel

In May, Venus, Saturn and Jupiter become retrograde – they change the direction of motion in the celestial sphere. Previously, it was considered a bad omen. In fact, in the solar system there is only one real retrograde – Venus. But the discovery of retrograde exoplanets was a complete surprise.

Copernicus explained everything

Even in ancient times, people noticed that planets moving in the heavens sometimes behave strangely, loop. Most of the year they follow from west to east (if they are farther from the Sun than the Earth) and suddenly turn around, back down. The moment when this happens is called standing.In 1514, Nicolaus Copernicus proved that the Earth is not the center of the universe, but together with other planets revolves around the Sun.

Each celestial body has its own orbit, and the retrograde movement that is visible to us is the result of their superposition. For example, Mars approaches the Earth every two years as closely as possible and, overtaking it, draws an s-shaped loop in the sky.

© NASA / Tunc Tezel

The path of Mars in the celestial sphere in the period from July 2005 to February 2006. It goes from west to east and at the moment of approaching the Earth makes a loop. For a couple of months his movement seems retrograde to us.

Venus and Uranus versus all

All planets in relation to the Earth for a short time move backward, but this is only an appearance. Real retrogrades do not physically rotate like the rest. In the solar system, it is only Venus. If we were above the north pole of Venus, we would see that it rotates clockwise around its axis. Earth and other planets are against.It is believed that planets form together with a star from one protoplanetary disk. In theory, their orbits should lie in the same plane, and the directions of rotation in the orbit and around the axis should coincide. Why Venus is not like this is not yet clear.

Although scientists note its strong similarity with the Earth – these planets are even called twins. One of the explanations is that the processes occurring in the bowels and atmosphere have slowed the rotation of Venus so much that it stopped at some point, and then began to spin in another direction.

The distant ice giant Uranus also looks like a retrograde. It lies on its side relative to the plane of its orbit, and pecks down the north pole, which makes Uranus seem to rotate clockwise. But if you put it normally, it will become normal. Scientists believe that billions of years ago, Uranus collided with a large cosmic body and turned over in space. Another hypothesis is that in the past the planet had a massive system of rings that caused resonance, rocked it and deployed.

General rules apply to planetary moons. For example, the Earth rotates counterclockwise, and so does the Moon around the Earth. But one of the 13 moons of Neptune – Triton – is “against the coat.” So, scientists conclude, Triton did not belong to Neptune, was an independent small body, until Neptune captured it from the Kuiper belt. By the way, Pluto, similar in composition to Triton, is also retrograde. In part, this contributed to its transfer to the category of dwarf planets.

© Illustration by RIA Novosti. NASA / JPLRetrograde motion of Triton. This is the only major satellite in the solar system that moves in orbit against the course of its planet.

Anomalies of hot jupiters

This is what our system is completely devoid of – planets that would move in orbits against the rotation of the Sun. For a long time, astronomers believed that this should be everywhere. But in 2009, they discovered the first exoplanet with a retrograde orbit at the star WASP-17 in the constellation Scorpio.WASP-17 b is the largest and least dense exoplanet known. Such gas giants are called hot jupiters.

Its retrograde intrigues scientists. Smadar Naoz from the Center for Interdisciplinary Research in Astrophysics at Northwestern University ( USA ) proposed a possible mechanism: the mutual influence of giant planets during migration closer to a star or a brown dwarf. But its implementation requires the coincidence of too many conditions, and this is unlikely. Nevertheless, the astrophysicist put forward a bold hypothesis that such retrograde jupiters are not uncommon – a quarter among those observed. However, the existence of the hot Jupiters themselves is still waiting for its explanation.

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A space object that changes the concept of the Universe is discovered: An unthinkable ancient galaxy

Photo: NRAO / AUI / NSF / S. Dagnello

Scientists at the Institute for Astronomy of the Max Planck Society in the UK announced the discovery of the oldest massive galaxy DLA0817g, which arose just 1.5 billion years after the Big Bang. It has a disk, which can change astronomers’ ideas about the mechanisms of galaxy formation. An article by astronomers is published in the journal Nature.

Researchers discovered the galaxy using the ALMA (Atacama Large Millimeter Array) radio telescope complex. This ancient object was named Wolf Disc – in honor of the astronomer Arthur Wolf. It has become the farthest spinning-disk galaxy of all detected so far, and its cosmological redshift is 4.26.

The light from it flew 12.2 billion years, but due to the expansion of the Universe, the galaxy is currently at a distance of 24.4 billion light years. The rotation occurs at a speed of 272 kilometers per second, which is comparable to the rotation speed of the Milky Way.

According to modern models, massive galaxies are formed from the mergers of smaller mass galaxies and clusters of hot gas. These collisions prevent the formation of disks characteristic of the Universe of this age.

Therefore, the existence of the Wolf Disc will force astronomers to reconsider the mechanisms of the appearance of such space objects. DLA0817g probably accumulated cold gas, but the question of how he managed to maintain a stable disk with such a large mass remains open.

Scientists also found that the star formation rate in the Wolf Disk is ten times higher than the star formation rate in the Milky Way. According to astronomers, he was one of the most productive galaxies in the early Universe.

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