Something New On the Sun: SDO Spots a Late Phase in Solar Flares

Article written: 7 Sep , 2011
Updated: 24 Dec , 2015
by

From a NASA press release:

The Sun’s surface dances. Giant loops of magnetized solar material burst up, twist, and fall back down. Some erupt, shooting radiation flares and particles out into space. Forced to observe this dance from afar, scientists use all the tools at their disposal to look for patterns and connections to discover what causes these great explosions. Mapping these patterns could help scientists predict the onset of space weather that bursts toward Earth from the Sun, interfering with communications and Global Positioning System (GPS) signals.

Analysis of 191 solar flares since May 2010 by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) has recently shown a new piece in the pattern: some 15 percent of the flares have a distinct “late phase flare” some minutes to hours later that has never before been fully observed. This late phase of the flare pumps much more energy out into space than previously realized.

“We’re starting to see all sorts of new things,” says Phil Chamberlin, deputy project scientist for SDO at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. “We see a large increase in emissions a half-hour to several hours later, that is sometimes even larger than the original, traditional phases of the flare. In one case on November 3, 2010, measuring only the effects of the main flare would mean underestimating the amount of energy shooting into Earth’s atmosphere by 70 percent.”

The entire space weather system, from the Sun’s surface to the outer edges of the solar system, is dependent on how energy transfers from one event to another – magnetic reconnection near the Sun transferred to movement energy barreling across space to energy deposited into Earth’s atmosphere, for example. Better understanding of this late phase flare will help scientists quantify just how much energy is produced when the sun erupts.

The team found evidence for these late phases when SDO first began collecting data in May of 2010 and the Sun decided to put on a show. In that very first week, in the midst of an otherwise fairly quiet time for the sun, there sprouted some nine flares of varying sizes. Flare sizes are divided into categories, named A, B, C, M and X, that have long been defined by the intensity of the X-rays emitted at the flare’s peak as measured by the GOES (Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite) satellite system. GOES is a NOAA-operated network of satellites that has been in geosynchronous orbit near Earth since 1976. One of the GOES satellites measures only X-ray emissions and is a crucial source of information on space weather that the sun sends our way.

That May 2010, however, SDO observed those flares with its multi-wavelength vision. It recorded data indicating that some other wavelengths of light weren’t behaving in sync with the X-rays, but peaked at other times.

“For decades, our standard for flares has been to watch the x-rays and see when they peak,” says Tom Woods, a space scientist at the University of Colorado, Boulder, Colo. who is first author on a paper on this subject that goes online September 7 in the Astrophysical Journal. “That’s our definition for when a flare goes off. But we were seeing peaks that didn’t correspond to the X-rays.” Woods says that at first they were worried the data were an anomaly or a glitch in the instruments. But as they confirmed the data with other instruments and watched the patterns repeat over many months, they began to trust what they were seeing. “And then we got excited,” he says.

Over the course of a year, the team used the EVE (for Extreme ultraviolet Variability Experiment) instrument on SDO to record data from many more flares. EVE doesn’t snap conventional images. Woods is the principal investigator for the EVE instrument and he explains that it collects all the light from the sun at once and then precisely separates each wavelength of light and measures its intensity. This doesn’t produce pretty pictures the way other instruments on SDO do, but it provides graphs that map out how each wavelength of light gets stronger, peaks, and diminishes over time. EVE collects this data every 10 seconds, a rate guaranteed to provide brand new information about how the sun changes, given that previous instruments only measured such information every hour and a half or didn’t look at all the wavelengths simultaneously – not nearly enough information to get a complete picture of the heating and cooling of the flare.

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Recording extreme ultraviolet light, the EVE spectra showed four phases in an average flare’s lifetime. The first three have been observed and are well established. (Though EVE was able to measure and quantify them over a wide range of light wavelengths better than has ever been done.) The first phase is the hard X-ray impulsive phase, in which highly energetic particles in the sun’s atmosphere rain down toward the sun’s surface after an explosive event in the atmosphere known as magnetic reconnection. They fall freely for some seconds to minutes until they hit the denser lower atmosphere, and then the second phase, the gradual phase, begins. Over the course of minutes to hours, the solar material, called plasma, is heated and explodes back up, tracing its way along giant magnetic loops, filling the loops with plasma. This process sends off so much light and radiation that it can be compared to millions of hydrogen bombs.

The third phase is characterized by the Sun’s atmosphere — the corona –losing brightness, and so is known as the coronal dimming phase. This is often associated with what’s known as a coronal mass ejection, in which a great cloud of plasma erupts off the surface of the Sun.

But the fourth phase, the late phase flare, spotted by EVE was new. Anywhere from one to five hours later for several of the flares, they saw a second peak of warm coronal material that didn’t correspond to another X-ray burst.

“Many observations have spotted an increased extreme ultraviolet peak just seconds to minutes after the main phase of the flare, and this behavior is considered a normal part of the flare process. But this late phase is different,” says Goddard’s Chamberlin, who is also a co-author on the paper. “These emissions happen substantially later. And it happens after the main flare exhibits that initial peak.”

To try to understand what was happening, the team looked at the images collected from SDO’s Advanced Imaging Assembly (AIA) as well. They could see the main phase flare eruption in the images and also noticed a second set of coronal loops far above the original flare site. These extra loops were longer and become brighter later than the original set (or the post-flare loops that appeared just minutes after that). These loops were also physically set apart from those earlier ones.

“The intensity we’re recording in those late phase flares is usually dimmer than the X-ray intensity,” says Woods. “But the late phase goes on much longer, sometimes for multiple hours, so it’s putting out just as much total energy as the main flare that typically only lasts for a few minutes.” Because this previously unrealized extra source of energy from the flare is equally important to impacting Earth’s atmosphere, Woods and his colleagues are now studying how the late phase flares can influence space weather.

The late phase flare is, of course, just one piece of the puzzle as we try to understand the star with which we live. But keeping track of the energy, measuring all the different wavelengths of light, using all the instruments NASA has at its disposal, such information helps us map out all the steps of the Sun’s great dance.

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6 Responses

  1. HeadAroundU says

    You gotta check everything in this universe, at every wavelength.

    Now that’s a great article, a bit redundant like Metallica, but still great.

  2. Dr.M.A. Padmanabha Rao says

    First of all I congratulate the authors of this research paper for providing very interesting observations that support my experimental findings. My sub-atomic research work has shown that the Sun light (UV dominant optical emission) could be reproduced at the laboratory level from radioisotopes and XRF sources. Only after doing six fundamental physics discoveries ( http://en.giswiki.net/wiki/User_talk:Raomap ), it became possible to understand that the Sun light is caused by the new atomic phenomenon reported in the following paper in 2010.

    M A Padmanabha Rao, UV dominant optical emission newly detected from radioisotopes and XRF sources, Brazilian Journal of Physics, vol. 40, no. 1, March 2010,
    http://www.sbfisica.org.br/bjp/files/v40_38.pdf

    X-rays are successively followed by Bharat radiation (Dark Radiation), and UV dominant optical radiation emissions from one and the same excited atom. Therefore, delayed extreme ultraviolet light, the EVE spectra following X-rays reported here is understandable from my study. I am of the view that X-rays travel faster than extreme ultraviolet light by virture of the difference in their wavelengths. That is why the extreme ultraviolet light might reach earth little later than X-rays. http://www.instructables.com/answers/Do-Ultraviolet-rays-travel-faster-than-Light/

    The spectral lines shown here are due to stable isotopes. However, my research work strongly suggests that they could be due to radioisotopes or XRF sources. The position of a particular line in the spectrum depends upon the energy of dominant
    gamma, X-ray or beta emission in Sun flare (Fig.3 in Braz.J.Phy, Mar, 2010). “Solar EUV lines are due to radioisotopes produced by Uranium fission, according to the following peer reviewed paper. Radioisotopes cause a new class of room temperature atomic spectra of solids (radioisotopes and X-ray sources) by a previously unknown phenomenon. X-ray sources can be radioisotopes that emit predominantly characteristic X-rays”. http://news.softpedia.com/news/More-Auroras-Linked-to-Increased-Solar-Activity-150301.shtml

    • Torbjörn Larsson says

      How is work on isotopes and excited atom shells (fluorescence) “subatomic”?

      That any light, such as X-rays, would travel at a different speed than any other in vacuum (roughly, the corona) is rejected by relativity.

      From the paper:

      “126.593 nm in between X-ray and optical spectral regions [9]
      of electromagnetic spectrum, the predicted radiation has been
      temporarily termed as Bharat radiation just for convenience
      [3, 6]. Citing the author’s research work, Carlos Austerlitz
      et al described the role of Bharat energy and light produced
      following X-rays in exciting electron in their paper [11]. The
      wavelengths in the said range cannot be detected well by the
      currently available detector like photomultiplier tube.”

      The overly precise data, the use of conveniently “cannot be detected well” hypothetical radiation and its ties to biological effects (one of the refs is “M. A. Padmanabha Rao, in Proc. 7th Int. Conf. on Human Ecology and Nature (HEN 2008), Moscow-Ples, Russia, 2008”; the other “M. A. Padmanabha Rao. in Proc. Symposium on Low Level Electromagnetic Phenomena in Biological Systems, 1999”) and the absurd claim that 235U fission can potentially replace fusion in stellar physics scream pathological science to a reader of science blogs.

      The journal it is published in claims it is peer reviewed, no review information is available however, and even if reviewed this is likely a paper that shouldn’t have been published. And coincidentally, Google Scholar says no one (except MAP Rao) references “Bharat radiation”, it is not viable science.

      • Dr.M.A. Padmanabha Rao says

        FIRST APPRECIATE MY THREE EXPERIMENTAL DISCOVERIES, IF NO REWARD.

        If one cannot understand a serious scientific topic like “Bharat radiation” described in the paper that should not be the cause for Torbjörn Larsson to make rude, loose and unacceptable comments on the author and the Journal. Politely interaction by fellow scientists and appreciation of other’s research work is desirable. Torbjörn Larsson failed to pinpoint his objection on any aspect of Bharat Radiation. His discourteous words might cause an embarrassment to serious researchers in science. Anyhow, I will explain to him once again here on Bharat radiation to make it clear.

        Scientific discovery is rare in science and cannot be made by every scientist. Abnormally high counts noted from Rb XRF source with a bare photomultiplier triggered the entire research. Four years of experimentation hinted light emission. Two years were spent in developing two optical techniques to verify the suspected optical emission with very low intensity. Both radioisotopes and XRF sources showed a high energy UV dominant optical emission. Since the findings were entirely new to current Physics and complex to understand, I continued my research for another 12 years after retirement.
        First of all, for the three experimental discoveries made after years of research, I expected from Torbjörn Larsson a word of appreciation: 1. UV dominant optical emission from radioisotopes present as radiochemicals. 2. UV dominant optical emission from XRF sources present as salts. 3. UV dominant optical emission from metals at room temperature when present as radioisotopes or XRF sources. These three experimental findings were verified by the Director (& IAEA expert in Radiation Dosimetry) of the institution where I worked in India. The optical emission was also explained briefly by a new Atomic phenomenon. Initially, the entire work is released as an Official Report of the Government of India in 1997 (http://www.angelfire.com/sc3/1010/publications.html). Now the question comes how to explain UV dominant optical radiation commonly observed from radioisotopes and XRF sources, as well as from metals when present as radioisotope such as Co-57; and metal Cu, Ag, and Mo XRF sources notably at room temperature. Optical emission from metals at room temperature ruled out incandescence, and luminescence. Surprisingly, dominant gamma ray seems to have caused UV dominant optical emission within the same excited Co-57 atom. This insight hinted the UV dominant optical emission from radioisotopes and XRF sources listed in Table 1 is a new class of “Room temperature Atomic Spectra from solid radioisotopes and XRF sources”, not known previously in the field of Atomic spectroscopy. All these claims said so far were unbelievable simply because there was neither a theoretical prediction of optical emission from radioisotopes and XRF sources nor any existing phenomenon could explain it. I was compelled to provide a valid explanation for gamma, X-ray, and beta emissions causing UV dominant optical emission within an excited atom. Gamma, X-ray, and beta with energy in keV or MeV can ionize valence electron but cannot do valence excitation to cause UV dominant optical emission. That is why, I have realized that gamma, X-ray, and beta might be generating some energy higher than that of UV at eV level within the same excited atom. to which I termed as Bharat Radiation. As this comes under sub-atomic research into excited atoms of radioisotopes and XRF sources, where is the need for Torbjörn Larsson to make a meaningless comment “How is work on isotopes and excited atom tshells (fluorescence) “subatomic?”. My emphasis was that some previously unknown energy generated within an excited atom could be responsible for the newly observed optical spectra. Furthermore, I have shown gap in Electromagnetic Spectrum, and location of Bharat wavelengths in the gap of Electromagnetic Spectrum. Previously unknown atomic phenomenon taken two years of my time explains how gamma, X-ray or beta emission generates Bharat radiation followed by UV dominant optical radiation from one and the same excited atom in radioisotopes and XRF sources.
        Before publication, I have presented my research work in International Symposia held in USA (1998, 2001), Bulgaria (2002), Russia (2008), and India (1998, 2002) to see whether my inferences are acceptable to the wider scientific community, and to provide an opportunity for others to verify my experimental findings. I was specially invited to EGAS34 held at Sofia in 2002, and HEN2008 conference held in Russia in 2008. Since my first presentation of the research at Kalkata, India in 1998 none has made any adversely comment on any aspect of my research work. Torbjörn Larsson crossed his limits and did not hesitate to criticize even the Editorial Board of the Brazilian Journal of Physics saying “Even if peer reviewed this is likely a paper that shouldn’t have been published”. Value of any research paper depends upon in its quality, in its originality but not on the Referee or Journal. Only those Referees with good optimism allow scientific breakthroughs to be published after necessary review by experts or peers. I firmly believe that Editorial Board of the Brazilian Journal of Physics has taken a right decision to publish the paper “UV dominant optical emission newly detected from radioisotopes and XRF sources”. I am not the person to answer if Torbjörn Larsson thinks that he should be consulted before publishing a paper in any journal including Brazilian Journal of Physics.

        M.A.Padmanabha Rao, PhD
        Former Professor of Medical Physics in India.

      • Dr.M.A. Padmanabha Rao says

        FIRST APPRECIATE MY THREE EXPERIMENTAL DISCOVERIES, IF NO REWARD.

        If one cannot understand a serious scientific topic like “Bharat radiation” described in the paper that should not be the cause for Torbjörn Larsson to make rude, loose and unacceptable comments on the author and the Journal. Politely interaction by fellow scientists and appreciation of other’s research work is desirable. Torbjörn Larsson failed to pinpoint his objection on any aspect of Bharat Radiation. His discourteous words might cause an embarrassment to serious researchers in science. Anyhow, I will explain to him once again here on Bharat radiation to make it clear.

        Scientific discovery is rare in science and cannot be made by every scientist. Abnormally high counts noted from Rb XRF source with a bare photomultiplier triggered the entire research. Four years of experimentation hinted light emission. Two years were spent in developing two optical techniques to verify the suspected optical emission with very low intensity. Both radioisotopes and XRF sources showed a high energy UV dominant optical emission. Since the findings were entirely new to current Physics and complex to understand, I continued my research for another 12 years after retirement.
        First of all, for the three experimental discoveries made after years of research, I expected from Torbjörn Larsson a word of appreciation: 1. UV dominant optical emission from radioisotopes present as radiochemicals. 2. UV dominant optical emission from XRF sources present as salts. 3. UV dominant optical emission from metals at room temperature when present as radioisotopes or XRF sources. These three experimental findings were verified by the Director (& IAEA expert in Radiation Dosimetry) of the institution where I worked in India. The optical emission was also explained briefly by a new Atomic phenomenon. Initially, the entire work is released as an Official Report of the Government of India in 1997 (http://www.angelfire.com/sc3/1010/publications.html). Now the question comes how to explain UV dominant optical radiation commonly observed from radioisotopes and XRF sources, as well as from metals when present as radioisotope such as Co-57; and metal Cu, Ag, and Mo XRF sources notably at room temperature. Optical emission from metals at room temperature ruled out incandescence, and luminescence. Surprisingly, dominant gamma ray seems to have caused UV dominant optical emission within the same excited Co-57 atom. This insight hinted the UV dominant optical emission from radioisotopes and XRF sources listed in Table 1 is a new class of “Room temperature Atomic Spectra from solid radioisotopes and XRF sources”, not known previously in the field of Atomic spectroscopy. All these claims said so far were unbelievable simply because there was neither a theoretical prediction of optical emission from radioisotopes and XRF sources nor any existing phenomenon could explain it. I was compelled to provide a valid explanation for gamma, X-ray, and beta emissions causing UV dominant optical emission within an excited atom. Gamma, X-ray, and beta with energy in keV or MeV can ionize valence electron but cannot do valence excitation to cause UV dominant optical emission. That is why, I have realized that gamma, X-ray, and beta might be generating some energy higher than that of UV at eV level within the same excited atom. to which I termed as Bharat Radiation. As this comes under sub-atomic research into excited atoms of radioisotopes and XRF sources, where is the need for Torbjörn Larsson to make a meaningless comment “How is work on isotopes and excited atom tshells (fluorescence) “subatomic?”. My emphasis was that some previously unknown energy generated within an excited atom could be responsible for the newly observed optical spectra. Furthermore, I have shown gap in Electromagnetic Spectrum, and location of Bharat wavelengths in the gap of Electromagnetic Spectrum. Previously unknown atomic phenomenon taken two years of my time explains how gamma, X-ray or beta emission generates Bharat radiation followed by UV dominant optical radiation from one and the same excited atom in radioisotopes and XRF sources.
        Before publication, I have presented my research work in International Symposia held in USA (1998, 2001), Bulgaria (2002), Russia (2008), and India (1998, 2002) to see whether my inferences are acceptable to the wider scientific community, and to provide an opportunity for others to verify my experimental findings. I was specially invited to EGAS34 held at Sofia in 2002, and HEN2008 conference held in Russia in 2008. Since my first presentation of the research at Kalkata, India in 1998 none has made any adversely comment on any aspect of my research work. Torbjörn Larsson crossed his limits and did not hesitate to criticize even the Editorial Board of the Brazilian Journal of Physics saying “Even if peer reviewed this is likely a paper that shouldn’t have been published”. Value of any research paper depends upon in its quality, in its originality but not on the Referee or Journal. Only those Referees with good optimism allow scientific breakthroughs to be published after necessary review by experts or peers. I firmly believe that Editorial Board of the Brazilian Journal of Physics has taken a right decision to publish the paper “UV dominant optical emission newly detected from radioisotopes and XRF sources”. I am not the person to answer if Torbjörn Larsson thinks that he should be consulted before publishing a paper in any journal including Brazilian Journal of Physics.

        M.A.Padmanabha Rao, PhD
        Former Professor of Medical Physics in India.

    • Torbjörn Larsson says

      How is work on isotopes and excited atom shells (fluorescence) “subatomic”?

      That any light, such as X-rays, would travel at a different speed than any other in vacuum (roughly, the corona) is rejected by relativity.

      From the paper:

      “126.593 nm in between X-ray and optical spectral regions [9]
      of electromagnetic spectrum, the predicted radiation has been
      temporarily termed as Bharat radiation just for convenience
      [3, 6]. Citing the author’s research work, Carlos Austerlitz
      et al described the role of Bharat energy and light produced
      following X-rays in exciting electron in their paper [11]. The
      wavelengths in the said range cannot be detected well by the
      currently available detector like photomultiplier tube.”

      The overly precise data, the use of conveniently “cannot be detected well” hypothetical radiation and its ties to biological effects (one of the refs is “M. A. Padmanabha Rao, in Proc. 7th Int. Conf. on Human Ecology and Nature (HEN 2008), Moscow-Ples, Russia, 2008”; the other “M. A. Padmanabha Rao. in Proc. Symposium on Low Level Electromagnetic Phenomena in Biological Systems, 1999”) and the absurd claim that 235U fission can potentially replace fusion in stellar physics scream pathological science to a reader of science blogs.

      The journal it is published in claims it is peer reviewed, no review information is available however, and even if reviewed this is likely a paper that shouldn’t have been published. And coincidentally, Google Scholar says no one (except MAP Rao) references “Bharat radiation”, it is not viable science.

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