Here’s what I’m currently working on, described for a…
Solar Physicist: I’m using MHD simulations of the photosphere to characterize the motion of magnetic bright points at higher spatial resolution than can be done observationally. This motion excites Alfvén waves, some of which propagate into the corona and deposit energy. Producing a power spectrum of this motion with more precise (albeit simulated) data provides a refined lower boundary condition for models of coronal heating via Alfvén waves. This work also provides a prediction for DKIST, which will observe these bright points with comparable spatial and temporal resolution.
Normal Person: The surface of the Sun is about 10,000°F (6000°C), but there’s a sort of atmosphere around the Sun, called the corona, which is a million degrees. One of the big questions in solar physics is how the corona can be heated to a million degrees by the relatively-cool solar surface—it’s like boiling a pot of water without turning on the stove. One possible explanation involes what we call flux tubes, which are tubes of gas held together magnetically. These tubes are all over on the Sun. They have one end inside the Sun’s upper layers and the other end is up inside the corona. The bottoms of these tubes get shaken by the churning, boiling motion of the Sun’s surface. This makes the whole tube above the surface shake back and forth, which means waves are traveling up the tubes. When these waves get up into the corona, they shake around the gas, heating it up. This is where we think the corona’s temperature comes from, magnetic waves injecting heat directly into the corona. It’s like boiling water with a microwave oven instead of a stove top—the water’s boiled by microwaves injecting heat directly into the water, instead of by putting the water in contact with a hot stovetop. My research, then, is looking at just how the bases of those tubes are shaken around. I’m using computer simulations of the Sun, because I can look more closely and in more detail than can be done with telescopes. One goal of this research is to make a prediction for what will be seen by DKIST, an upcoming solar telescope that will produce clearer images of the solar surface than have ever been made before.
Five-Year-Old: The Sun is like a big ball of fire in space, and it’s super hot. But there’s a little bit of air in between the Sun and space, and it’s supermegaultra hot! We want to know why the Sun makes that air supermegaultra hot instead of just making it super hot like itself. We think it’s because the Sun works kind of like a microwave when it heats up that air, but we’re not quite sure yet. We’re working on it! I’m using special computer tools to look really closely at the surface of the Sun to see how this all works.