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An Overlooked Piece of the Solar Dynamo Puzzle

An Overlooked Piece of the Solar Dynamo Puzzle 86

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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Space

KOI-5Ab, the curious planet that orbits in a system of three suns

KOI-5Ab, the curious planet that orbits in a system of three suns 87
Photo: (Caltech / R. Hurt (IPAC))

To us, the Sun alone seems perfectly normal, but our solar system is actually a strange exception.

Most stars in the Milky Way galaxy have at least one companion star. In a system 1,800 light-years away, astronomers have finally confirmed the existence of a gas giant planet orbiting stars in a triple star system.

Called KOI-5, the system is located in the constellation Cygnus, and the exoplanet was confirmed ten years after it was first detected by the Kepler space telescope.

In fact, the planet – now known as KOI-5Ab – was discovered by Kepler when it began operations back in 2009.

“KOI-5Ab was dropped because it was difficult and we had thousands of other candidates,” astronomer David Siardi of NASA’s Exoplanet Science Institute said.

“There were lighter dives than the KOI-5Ab, and every day we learned something new from Kepler, so the KOI-5 was almost forgotten.”

Exoplanet hunters tend to avoid the complexities of multi-star systems; of the more than 4,300 exoplanets confirmed to date, less than 10 percent are multi-star systems, although such systems dominate the galaxy. As a result, little is known about the properties of exoplanets in multi-star systems compared to those orbiting a lone star.

After Kepler’s discovery, Chardy and other astronomers used ground-based telescopes such as the Palomar Observatory, Keck Observatory, and the Gemini North Telescope to study the system. By 2014, they had identified two companion stars, KOI-5B and KOI-5C.

Scientists were able to establish that the planet KOI-5Ab, is a gas giant that is about half the mass of Saturn and 7 times the size of Earth, and is in a very close five-day orbit around KOI-5A. KOI-5A and KOI-5B, both of roughly the same mass as the Sun, form a relatively close binary system with an orbital period of about 30 years.

KOI-5Ab, the curious planet that orbits in a system of three suns 88

A third star, KOI-5C, orbits the binary system at a much greater distance, with a period of about 400 years – slightly longer than Pluto’s 248-year orbit.

“By studying this system in more detail, perhaps we can understand how planets are created in the universe.”

The discovery was announced at the 237th meeting of the American Astronomical Society.

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Why the universe does not fit into science

Why the universe does not fit into science 89
Photo: YouTube

Science can be compared to an artist painting what he has never seen, or to a writer describing other people’s travels: objects that he has never seen, places where he has never been. Sometimes such scientific “arts” turn out to be beautiful and interesting, but most of them will forever remain only theories, because they are beyond human capabilities.

In fact, science has the right only to speculate: how our universe appeared, how old it is, how many stars and other objects it contains.

Universe model

Why the universe does not fit into science 90

How many stars are there in the sky?

With an unarmed eye, a person can see about nine thousand stars in the sky in one cloudless and moonless night. And armed with binoculars or a telescope, much more – up to several million. However, this is much less than their true number in the universe. Indeed, only in our one galaxy (the Milky Way) there are about 400 billion stars. The exact amount, of course, is not known to science. And the visible universe contains about 170 billion galaxies.

It is worth clarifying that scientists can see the universe 46 billion light years deep in all directions. And the visible (observable) universe includes the space accessible to our eyes from the moment of the Big Explosion. In other words, only this (accessible to human perception) space science refers to our universe. Science does not consider everything that follows.

It is believed that there are supposedly a ceptillion (10 to 24 degrees) stars in our universe. These are theoretical calculations based on the approximate size and age of the universe. The origin of the universe is explained by the Big Bang theory. This is why the universe is constantly expanding and the more time passes, the more complex the universe and its components become.

Why the universe does not fit into science 91

It is not entirely correct to consider and perceive this scientific theory “head-on”. Scientists always claim that that explosion was not exactly an explosion, and the point that exploded was not the only one. After all, it was everywhere, because space did not exist then. And in general – everything happened quite differently from what is described in the Big Bang theory, but all other descriptions of the origin of the universe are even more incredible and inaccurate.

Separate but interconnected

That which is beyond the reach of human perception is usually discarded by science, or recognized as non-existent. Recognizing one thing, science does not want to recognize the existence of the other, although everything in our world is interconnected and is not able to exist separately – by itself.

Each object of the universe is a part of it much more than an independent, separate object.

Any person, like any material object of our world, consists of components: organs, cells, molecules, atoms. And each of its constituent parts can represent the whole world. Separate, and at the same time connected with all the others.

However, science, as a rule, perceives all the components of the universe – people, animals, plants, objects, the Earth, the Sun, other planets and stars – as separate subjects, thereby limiting itself.

Why the universe does not fit into science 92

Even what is considered the visible universe, one of the atoms of which could be called our solar system, is not subject to the boundaries of human perception. But perhaps the atom is an exaggeration, and our solar system is not even an atom, but one of its elements!

How, being so far from the truth, can one reason about something with the degree of probability with which science tries to reason about the origin of the universe?

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An unexplained wobble shifts the poles of Mars

An unexplained wobble shifts the poles of Mars 93

The red planet sways from side to side like a whirligig when it loses speed. The new study allowed scientists to notice that the poles of Mars deviate slightly from the axis of rotation of the planet. On average, they move 10 cm from the center with a period of 200 days.

Such changes are called the Chandler Oscillations  – after the American astronomer Seth Chandler, who discovered them in 1891. Previously, they were only seen on Earth. It is known that the displacement of the poles of rotation of our planet occurs with a period of 433 days, while the amplitude reaches 15 meters. There is no exact answer why this is happening. It is believed that the fluctuations are influenced by processes in the ocean and the Earth’s atmosphere.

Chandler’s wobbles on Mars are equally perplexing. The authors of the study discovered them by comparing data from 18 years of studying the planet. The information was obtained thanks to three spacecraft that orbit the Red Planet: Mars Odyssey, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and Mars Global Surveyor. 

Since Mars has no oceans, it is likely that the Red Planet’s wobbly rotation is due to changes in atmospheric pressure. This is the first explanation that researchers have shared. In the future, there should be new details about the fluctuations that have so interested the scientific community.

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