Europe’s Largest Gathering of Solar Scientists Welcomed to Trinity

Posted on: 11 September 2014

Over 240 solar scientists have gathered for the 'premier conference in Europe’ in all aspects relating to the physics of the Sun. The School of Physics at Trinity College Dublin is playing host to the scientists, who are here to discuss and debate the latest discoveries relating to our nearest star at the 14th European Solar Physics Meeting (

Solar physics addresses some of the biggest scientific questions in modern day astrophysics and is a truly ‘composite science’, requiring expertise and knowledge in physics, mathematics, computer science and engineering (all of the STEM subjects in one field) to answer difficult questions. Combining exciting cutting-edge science with the most advanced technology available, such as ESA and NASA satellites and new generations of ground-based telescopes, researchers unravel the mysteries of how the Sun works by detecting dynamic activity in the Sun’s atmosphere. That is extremely important because solar activity causes ‘space weather’ (solar storms).

One of the features of the conference is a public lecture devoted especially to strange space weather and its impacts on Earth. Fittingly, there were two major 'solar eruptions' earlier this week, which means Earth is very likely to experience related impacts on Friday 12th September. The public lecture will be delivered by solar physicist Pál Brekke, who is senior adviser in the department of Space and Earth Sciences at the Norwegian Space Centre.

He said: “Today, space weather forecasts are made for power grid companies, satellite operators, drilling companies and flight controllers in much the same way as our daily weather forecasts. Our technology-driven society is getting more and more dependent on space infrastructure, thus solar storms will have a bigger and bigger effect in the future.”

“Detailed knowledge about the processes on the Sun creating solar storms is essential if we want to improve our space weather forecast capabilities,” added Dr Shaun Bloomfield, Senior Research Fellow in Physics at Trinity College Dublin.

Scientists at the conference have been showing how they are solving a 60-year old paradox relating to our Sun’s million-degree atmosphere.

A super-sonic ‘solar wind’ blows out from the atmosphere in regions where a strong magnetic field should instead keep it confined. The key to unravelling what has proved a contradiction for so long has been found to lie in magnetic wind tunnels that channel hot gas from regions where it is trapped, to regions where it can escape into the Solar System.

Len Culhane, Professor of Physics at UCL, who leads the work, said: “We have known since 1958 that the Sun has a wind that constantly blows outward into the solar system. The earth is enveloped by this wind. It only stops when it runs into the gas between the stars. But the Sun also has a magnetic field that traps the wind so it has been a puzzle for many years as to how the wind escapes.”

The upcoming Solar Orbiter mission, to be launched in 2017, has the study of solar wind origins as one of its principal aims. The team therefore plans a significant effort to establish in general terms which active regions are likely to be a source of the solar wind. This will in turn enable the focus of Solar Orbiter observations to be on those active regions that are likely to make a significant slow solar wind contribution.

Additional Notes

Ongoing research in Trinity College Dublin’s Solar Physics and Space Weather Research Group is led by Associate Professor in Physics at Trinity, Peter Gallagher.

This research has a particular emphasis in the study of space weather, which appears when conditions change in near-Earth space due to solar flares and energetic eruptions coming from the Sun. This thriving research group specializes in predicting the occurrence of solar activity and the arrival of solar storms at Earth.


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