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Why are the loops in the sun’s atmosphere so neat and tidy?

Movies taken during the eclipse may set the record straight on the corona’s structure

By
7:00am, August 17, 2017
solar loop structures

A TANGLED SKEIN  Splendid loops in the corona protrude from the sun’s surface, seen in this 2014 ultraviolet image from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory. They are anchored in the sun’s messy magnetic field — so it’s a mystery how they stay so smooth.

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When the Aug. 21 solar eclipse unveils the sun’s normally dim atmosphere, the corona will look like an intricate, orderly network of loops, fans and streamers. These features trace the corona’s magnetic field, which guides coronal plasma to take on the shape of tubes and sheets.

These wispy coronal structures arise from the magnetic field on the sun’s visible surface, or its photosphere. Unlike the corona, the photosphere’s magnetism is a complete mess.

“It’s not a static surface like the ground, it’s more like an ocean,” says solar physicist Amir Caspi of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo. “And not just an ocean. It’s like a boiling ocean.

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