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Astron

Initiator: ASTRON Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy

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This project was co-financed by the EU, the European Fund for Regional Development and the Northern Netherlands Provinces (SNN), and EZ/KOMPAS.

Solar Physics and Space Weather

KSP: Solar Physics and Space Weather with LOFAR

Solar radio emission

The Sun is our closest star and an intense radio source. In addition to the strong thermal radiation of the quiet Sun there is intense radio emission from bursts that are associated with phenomena of solar activity like flares and coronal mass ejections (CMEs).
The theory of space plasmas provides the tools for investigating the physics of the source regions of solar radio emission as it is observed on Earth, e.g. by LOFAR in the frequency range 30-240 MHz. Thus, radio waves can be used to investigate the physical processes related with flares and CMEs. Basically, energetic electrons are needed for non-thermal radio emission. These electrons are produced by processes associated with flares and CMEs. They excite high frequency plasma waves, e.g. Langmuir and/or upper-hybrid waves, which convert into electromagnetic (radio) waves. Thus, the radio waves are emitted near the local electron plasma frequency. For instance, electrons can directly be accelerated in a flare and then be injected into magnetic field geometries that are open towards the higher corona or interplanetary space, leading to the well-known solar type III radio bursts.
The phenomena of the active Sun, like flares and CMEs influence the Earth and its environment and can lead to disturbances of our technical civilisation. Flares are accompanied with an enhanced emission of X-rays and enhanced fluxes of energetic particles, e.g. electrons, protons, and heavy ions, while CMEs also produce highly energetic particles, and can cause geomagnetic storms if they impact on Earth's magnetosphere. These effects of the solar-terrestrial relations are called Space Weather.

 

Figure 1. The left picture shows a CME that has been released after the strong flare on Oktober 28, 2003. It was taken with the coronograph LASCO on board the SOHO spacecraft. The CME is moving towards the observer and thus towards Earth. It has later caused a geomagnetic storm. The "snow storm" in the picture is caused by energetic protons that hit the camera's CCD chip. This radiation would have been fatal for an astronaut in space. The right picture (from NASA) shows an artist's impression of the impact of the CME on Earth.

Importance of solar radio observations

Observations of solar radio emission have two aims:

  • Observations of the flare related processes can help to improve the understanding of solar activity. Today, many of them are far from understood.
  • Monitoring the solar activity can help to minimize damage of strong CMEs on technical equipment on Earth. A better understanding of the observations can eventually lead to predictions of the effects on Earth and allow for fast provision.

More information: http://www.astron.nl/general/lofar/solar-ksp/solar-ksp.

 
ASTRON initiated LOFAR as a new and innovative effort to force a breakthrough in sensitivity for astronomical observations at radio-frequencies below 250 MHz. 
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