UKMHD Consortium: The origins of magnetism in the quiet sun

UKMHD Consortium: The origins of magnetism in the quiet sun

 Figure 1. A volume rendering of the magnetic field distribution in a simulation of a region of quit Sun.

In the outer layers of the solar interior, vigorous convective motions interact with complex magnetic field structures. Regions of quiet Sun (which, by definition, contain no large-scale magnetic features such as sunspots) are characterized by a spatially intermittent distribution of small-scale magnetic fields. Explaining the origin and evolution of quiet Sun magnetic fields is one of the most important challenges in modern solar physics.

It is believed that a significant fraction of quiet Sun magnetism is generated in the surface layers by a convectively-driven dynamo. To simulate this dynamo process, it is necessary to solve the governing equations of Magneto HydroDynamics (MHD) for a compressible, electrically-conducting gas in three spatial dimensions and time. This is a computationally challenging problem that can only be tackled by using massively parallel simulations on the Dirac High Performance Computing facilities.

Figure 2. The temperature distribution (left) and vertical magnetic field distribution (right) from a simulation of a region of quit Sun.

Using simulations of this type, we have confirmed that a dynamo mechanism could indeed account for the observations. In the absence of magnetic fields, the simulated convective flows are solar-like in many respects, with a “granular” pattern of broad warm upflows, surrounded by a network of cooler, narrow downflows. Furthermore, as suggested by the observations, these granules are organized on a larger (“mesogranular”) scale. When a seed magnetic field is introduced into this system, the convective motions drive a dynamo with a complex, intermittent field distribution that is comparable to that observed in the quiet Sun, with the most persistent magnetic structures accumulating preferentially at the mesogranular boundaries.