The sun’s corona, its outermost atmosphere, is a mystery that has puzzled scientists for years. Its temperature, significantly hotter than the sun’s surface, has been a subject of numerous theories, one of which is now being challenged by a group of undergraduate students.
A team of nearly 1,000 undergraduate students at the University of Colorado Boulder, in collaboration with physicists, conducted a study on over 600 real solar flares. Their research, published in The Astrophysical Journal, suggests that solar flares may not be the primary cause of the sun’s corona superheating, challenging a popular astrophysics theory.
A Collaborative Effort
In a unique approach to scientific research, physicists at the University of Colorado Boulder enlisted the help of about 1,000 undergraduate students to study the sun’s corona. The students, mostly in their first and second years, analyzed the physics of over 600 real solar flares from 2020 to 2022.
Challenging Established Theories
The study’s findings, published in The Astrophysical Journal, cast doubt on the widely accepted theory that solar flares are responsible for the sun’s corona’s extreme heat. This theory suggests that tiny flares, or “nanoflares,” could be heating the corona to its sizzling temperatures of millions of degrees Fahrenheit.
The Role of Nanoflares
Despite the study’s findings, lead author James Mason believes it’s too early to dismiss the role of nanoflares in coronal heating. However, he acknowledges that the evidence from their research suggests otherwise.
A Pandemic-Era Initiative
The project began during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic when universities, including CU Boulder, had moved their courses online. The students’ contribution to this research provided them with a unique hands-on experience during a challenging time.
This study opens up new avenues for research in astrophysics. Future research could focus on exploring other potential causes of the sun’s corona heating. Additionally, the role of nanoflares needs further investigation, as their contribution to coronal heating remains a possibility despite the recent findings.