Astronomers have tracked the particle accelerator in solar flares

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Solar flares are one of the most energetic explosions in the solar system. These are real “blows” with an energy equivalent to hundreds of billions of nuclear bombs. Yet scientists are unable to reasonably explain how these explosions are able to accelerate particles at speeds close to the speed of light.

A research team led by Gregory Fleishman of the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) is making significant progress in this direction. With colleagues, they were able to trace an area in a solar flare in which electrically charged particles appear to accelerate at relativistic speeds.

The discovery came from the NJIT Expanded Owens Valley Solar Array (EOVSA) radio telescope in 2017, which involved a massive Class X solar flare. EOVSA takes detailed pictures of the sun’s eruptions and changes in the Sun’s magnetic field. These images capture the situation on hundreds of radio frequency frequencies simultaneously.

Efficient particle accelerator

Analyzes of these observations revealed a very effective particle accelerator in the brightest point of the observed solar flare. The usual solar plasma is converted into high-energy electrons there during the eruption.

This is no small space. In fact, the region of the “accelerator” during a solar flare is almost the size of two planets. Its discovery is a gift from heaven for astronomers. Now, during future solar flares, they can study the processes of natural particle acceleration that we observe in many places in space.

According to Fleishman, the Sun has turned out to be firing its eruptions in much larger areas than previously thought. This is the first time that astronomers have identified an area key to particle acceleration, its size, shape, and position on the Sun.

At the same time, it is clear that it is not done yet. The nature of the mechanism that dramatically accelerates electrically charged particles during solar flares is still elusive. It also seems necessary to fundamentally overhaul the models we use to study solar flares and their impact on Earth.

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