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School of Physics and Astronomy

Astronomy Unit Seminar -- Thermal instability and non-equilibrium in the solar atmosphere: from coronal rain to long-period intensity pulsations

22 November 2019

Time: 2:30 - 3:30pm
Speaker: Patrick Antolin
Venue: G. O. Jones Building, Room 610

The complex interaction of the magnetic field with matter is the key to some of the most puzzling observed phenomena at multiple scales across the universe, from tokamak plasma confinement experiments in the laboratory to the filamentary structure of the interstellar medium. A major astrophysical puzzle is the phenomenon of coronal heating, upon which the most external layer of stellar atmospheres, the corona, is sustained at multi-million degree temperatures on average. 

The solar corona, however, also conceals a cooling problem. Indeed, recent observations indicate that, even more mysteriously, like snowflakes in the oven, the corona hosts large amounts of cool material termed coronal rain, hundreds of times colder and denser, that constitute the seed of the famous prominences. Numerical simulations have shown that this cold material does not stem from the inefficiency of coronal heating mechanisms, but results from the specific spatio-temporal properties of these. As such, a large fraction of coronal loops, the basic constituents of the solar corona, are suspected to be in a state of thermal non-equilibrium, characterised by heating (evaporation) and cooling (condensation) cycles whose telltale observational signatures are long-period intensity pulsations in hot lines and thermal instability-driven coronal rain in cool lines, both now ubiquitously observed. In this talk, I will present this strong connection between the observed properties of hot and cool material in thermal non-equilibrium and instability. I will further identify the outstanding open questions in what constitutes a new, rapidly growing field of solar physics.