“We see certain kinds of solar seismic waves channeling upwards into the lower atmosphere, called the chromosphere, and from there, into the corona,” said Junwei Zhao, a solar scientist at Stanford University in Stanford, California, and lead author on the study. “This research gives us a new viewpoint to look at waves that can contribute to the energy of the atmosphere.”
The study makes use of the wealth of data captured by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, NASA’s Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph, and the Big Bear Solar Observatory in Big Bear Lake, California. Together, these observatories watch the sun in 16 wavelengths of light that show the sun’s surface and lower atmosphere. SDO alone captures 11 of these.
“SDO takes images of the sun in many different wavelengths at a high time resolution,” said Dean Pesnell, SDO project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “That lets you see the frequencies of these waves – if you didn’t have such rapid-fire images, you’d lose track of the waves from one image to the next.”
Though scientists have long suspected that the waves they spot in the sun’s surface, called the photosphere, are linked to those seen in the lowest reaches of the sun’s atmosphere, called the chromosphere, this new analysis is the first time that scientists have managed to actually watch the wave travel up through the various layers into the sun’s atmosphere.
When material is heated to high temperatures, it releases energy in the form of light. The type, or wavelength, of that light is determined by what the material is, as well as its temperature. That means different wavelengths from the sun can be mapped to different temperatures of solar material. Since we know how the sun’s temperature changes throughout the layers of its atmosphere, we can then order these wavelengths according to their height above the surface – and essentially watch solar waves as they travel upwards.
The implications of this study are twofold – first, this technique for watching the waves itself gives scientists a new tool to understand the sun’s lower atmosphere.
“Watching the waves move upwards tells us a lot about the properties of the atmosphere above sunspots – like temperature, pressure, and density,” said Ruizhu Chen, a graduate student scientist at Stanford who is an author on the study. “More importantly, we can figure out the magnetic field strength and direction.”