Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Inevitability of a magnetic field in the Sun's radiative interior


The gas in the convective outer layers of the Sun rotates faster at the equator than in the polar regions, yet deeper inside (in the radiative zone) the gas rotates almost uniformly1,2,3. There is a thin transition layer between these zones, called the tachocline4. This structure has been measured seismologically1,2,3, but no purely fluid-dynamical mechanism can explain its existence. Here we argue that a self-consistent model requires a large-scale magnetic field in the Sun's interior, as well as consideration of the Coriolis effects in the convection zone and in the tachocline. Turbulent stresses in the convection zone induce (through Coriolis effects) a meridional circulation, causing the gas from the convection zone to burrow downwards, thereby generating the horizontal and vertical shear that characterizes the tachocline. The interior magnetic field stops the burrowing, and confines the shear, as demanded by the observed structure of the tachocline. We outline a dynamical theory of the flow, from which we estimate a field strength of about 10−4 tesla just beneath the tachocline. An important test of this picture, after numerical refinement, will be quantitative consistency between the predicted and observed interior angular velocities.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Relevant articles

Open Access articles citing this article.

Access options

Rent or buy this article

Get just this article for as long as you need it


Prices may be subject to local taxes which are calculated during checkout

Figure 1: Schematic representation of a meridional quadrant of the Sun.


  1. Thompson, M. al. Differential rotation and dynamics of the solar interior. Science 272, 1400–1405 (1996).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Kosovichev, A. al. Structure and rotation of the solar interior: initial results from the MDI medium-l program. Sol. Phys. 170, 43–61 (1997).

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  3. Schou, al. Helioseismic studies with SOI-MDI of differential rotation in the solar envelope. Astrophys. J.(in the press).

  4. Spiegel, E. A. & Zahn, J-P. The solar tachocline. Astron. Astrophys. 265, 106–114 (1992).

    ADS  Google Scholar 

  5. Elliott, J. R. Aspects of the solar tachocline. Astron. Astrophys. 327, 1222–1229 (1997).

    ADS  Google Scholar 

  6. Turner, J. S. Buoyancy Effects in Fluids(Cambridge Univ. Press, (1973)).

    Book  Google Scholar 

  7. McIntyre, M. E. in The Solar Engine and its Influence on Terrestrial Atmosphere and Climate(ed. Nesme-Ribes, E.) 293–320 (NATO ASI I 25, Springer, Berlin, (1994)).

    Book  Google Scholar 

  8. Starr, V. P. Physics of Negative-viscosity Phenomena(McGraw Hill, New York, (1968)).

    Google Scholar 

  9. Kumar, P. & Quataert, E. J. Angular momentum transport by gravity waves and its effect on the rotation of the solar interior. Astrophys. J. 475, L133–L136 (1997).

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  10. Zahn, J-P., Talon, S. & Matias, J. Angular momentum transport by internal waves in the solar interior. Astron. Astrophys. 322, 320–328 (1997).

    ADS  Google Scholar 

  11. Gough, D. O. in The Energy Balance and Hydrodynamics of the Solar Chromosphere and Corona(eds Bonnet, R-M. & Delache, P.) 3–36 (IAU Colloq 36, de Bussac, Clermont-Ferrand, (1977)).

    Google Scholar 

  12. Plumb, R. A. & McEwan, A. D. The instability of a fixed standing wave in a viscous stratified fluid: alaboratory analogue of the quasi-biennial oscillation. J. Atmos. Sci. 35, 1827–1839 (1978).

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  13. Andrews, D. G., Holton, J. R. & Leovy, C. B. Middle Atmosphere Dynamics(Academic, New York, (1987)).

    Google Scholar 

  14. Gough, D. O. in Solar-terrestrial Relationships and the Earth Environment in the Last Millennia(ed. Castognoli-Cini) 90–142 (Soc. Italiana Fisica, Bologna, (1988)).

    Google Scholar 

  15. Cowling, T. G. Magnetohydrodynamics(Interscience, New York, (1957)).

    MATH  Google Scholar 

  16. Haynes, P. H., McIntyre, M. E., Shepherd, T. G. Reply to Comments by J. Egger on ‘On the “downward control” of extratropical diabatic circulations by eddy-induced mean zonal forces'. J. Atmos. Sci. 53, 2105–2107 (1996).

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  17. Haynes, P. H., Marks, C. J., McIntyre, M. E., Shepherd, T. G. & Shine, K. P. On the “downward control” of extratropical diabatic circulations by eddy-induced mean zonal forces. J. Atmos. Sci. 48, 651–678 (1991).

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  18. Gough, D. al. The seismic structure of the sun. Science 272, 1296–1299 (1996).

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  19. Elliott, J. R. & Gough, D. O. The thickness of the solar tachocline. Astrophys. J.(submitted).

  20. Dziembowski, W. A. & Goode, P. R. The toroidal magnetic field inside the sun. Astrophys. J. 347, 540–550 (1989).

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  21. Zweibel, E. G. & Gough, D. O. in Proc. IV SOHO Workshop: Helioseismology(eds Hoeksema, J. T., Domingo, V., Fleck, B. & Battrick, B.) 47–48 (SP-376, Vol. 2, ESA, Noordwijk, (1995)).

    Google Scholar 

  22. Gough, D. O. On possible origins of relatively short-term variations in the solar structure. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. A 330, 627–640 (1990).

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  23. Garaud, P. Propagation of a dynamo field in the radiative zone of the sun. Mon. Not. R. Astron. Soc.(submitted).

  24. Nesme-Ribes, E., Sokoloff, D., Ribes, J. C. & Kremliovsky, M. in The Solar Engine and its Influence on Terrestrial Atmosphere and Climate(ed. Nesme-Ribes, E.) 71–97 (NATO ASI I 25, Springer, Berlin, (1994)).

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to D. O. Gough.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Gough, D., McIntyre, M. Inevitability of a magnetic field in the Sun's radiative interior. Nature 394, 755–757 (1998).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

This article is cited by


By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing