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Plasma Loop and Strapping Field Dynamics: Reproducing Solar Eruptions in the Laboratory


Ha, Quoc Bao Nguyen (2016) Plasma Loop and Strapping Field Dynamics: Reproducing Solar Eruptions in the Laboratory. Dissertation (Ph.D.), California Institute of Technology. doi:10.7907/Z99G5JR6.


Coronal mass ejections (CMEs) are dramatic eruptions of large, plasma structures from the Sun. These eruptions are important because they can harm astronauts, damage electrical infrastructure, and cause auroras. A mysterious feature of these eruptions is that plasma-filled solar flux tubes first evolve slowly, but then suddenly erupt. One model, torus instability, predicts an explosive-like transition from slow expansion to fast acceleration, if the spatial decay of the ambient magnetic field exceeds a threshold.

We create arched, plasma filled, magnetic flux ropes similar to CMEs. Small, independently-powered auxiliary coils placed inside the vacuum chamber produce magnetic fields above the decay threshold that are strong enough to act on the plasma. When the strapping field is not too strong and not too weak, expansion force build up while the flux rope is in the strapping field region. When the flux rope moves to a critical height, the plasma accelerates quickly, corresponding to the observed slow-rise to fast-acceleration of most solar eruptions. This behavior is in agreement with the predictions of torus instability.

Historically, eruptions have been separated into gradual CMEs and impulsive CMEs, depending on the acceleration profile. Recent numerical studies question this separation. One study varies the strapping field profile to produce gradual eruptions and impulsive eruptions, while another study varies the temporal profile of the voltage applied to the flux tube footpoints to produce the two eruption types. Our experiment reproduced these different eruptions by changing the strapping field magnitude, and the temporal profile of the current trace. This suggests that the same physics underlies both types of CME and that the separation between impulsive and gradual classes of eruption is artificial.

Item Type:Thesis (Dissertation (Ph.D.))
Subject Keywords:Plasmas, Coronal Mass Ejections, CMEs, Eruptions, Space Weather, Experiment, Flux Rope
Degree Grantor:California Institute of Technology
Division:Engineering and Applied Science
Major Option:Applied Physics
Thesis Availability:Public (worldwide access)
Research Advisor(s):
  • Bellan, Paul Murray
Thesis Committee:
  • Bellan, Paul Murray (chair)
  • Polk, James E.
  • Fultz, Brent T.
  • Hallinan, Gregg W.
Defense Date:16 June 2015
Funding AgencyGrant Number
National Science Foundation1059519
U.S. Air Force Office of Scientific ResearchFA9550-11-1-0184
U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science, Office of Fusion Energy SciencesDE-FG02-04ER54755
U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science, Office of Fusion Energy SciencesDE-SC0010471
Record Number:CaltechTHESIS:07162015-193957726
Persistent URL:
Default Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:9061
Deposited By: Quoc Bao Ha
Deposited On:17 Sep 2015 21:39
Last Modified:04 Oct 2019 00:09

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