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Magnetic field uses sound waves to ignite sun's ring of fire

Sound waves escaping the sun's interior create fountains of hot gas that shape and power a thin region of the sun's atmosphere which appears as a ruby red "ring of fire" around the moon during a total solar eclipse, according to research funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and NASA.

The results are presented today at the American Astronomical Society's Solar Physics Division meeting in Hawaii.

This region, called the chromosphere because of its color, is largely responsible for the deep ultraviolet radiation that bathes the Earth, producing the atmosphere's ozone layer.

It also has the strongest solar connection to climate variability.

"The sun's interior vibrates with the peal of millions of bells, but the bells are all on the inside of the building," said Scott McIntosh of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo., lead member of the research team. "We've been able to show how the sound can escape the building and travel a long way using the magnetic field as a guide."

The new result also helps explain a mystery that's existed since the middle of the last century -- why the sun's chromosphere (and the corona above) is much hotter than the visible surface of the star. "It's getting warmer as you move away from the fire instead of cooler, certainly not what you would expect," said McIntosh.

"Scientists have long realized that observations of solar magnetic fields are the keys that will unlock the secrets of the sun's interior," said Paul Bellaire, program director in NSF's division of atmospheric sciences, which funded the research. "These researchers have found an ingenious way of using magnetic keys to pick those locks."

Using spacecraft, ground-based telescopes, and computer simulations, the results show that the sun's magnetic field allows the release of wave energy from its interior, permitting the sound waves to travel through thin fountains upward and into the solar
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Contact: Cheryl Dybas
cdybas@nsf.gov
703-292-7734
National Science Foundation
29-May-2007


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