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Solar chromospheric spicules from the leakage of photospheric oscillations and flows


Spicules are dynamic jets propelled upwards (at speeds of 20 km s-1) from the solar ‘surface’ (photosphere) into the magnetized low atmosphere of the Sun1,2,3. They carry a mass flux of 100 times that of the solar wind into the low solar corona4. With diameters close to observational limits (< 500 km), spicules have been largely unexplained3 since their discovery in 18775: none of the existing models3 can account simultaneously for their ubiquity, evolution, energetics and recently discovered periodicity6. Here we report a synthesis of modelling and high-spatial-resolution observations in which numerical simulations driven by observed photospheric velocities directly reproduce the observed occurrence and properties of individual spicules. Photospheric velocities are dominated by convective granulation (which has been considered before for spicule formation7,8,9,10,11) and by p-modes (which are solar global resonant acoustic oscillations visible in the photosphere as quasi-sinusoidal velocity and intensity pulsations). We show that the previously ignored p-modes are crucial: on inclined magnetic flux tubes, the p-modes leak sufficient energy from the global resonant cavity into the chromosphere to power shocks that drive upward flows and form spicules.

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Figure 1: High-resolution image showing the ubiquity and periodicity of spicules.
Figure 2: Comparison between spicule occurrence observed on the Sun and spicule height obtained from numerical simulations that are driven by observed velocities in the photosphere.
Figure 3: Leakage of ‘evanescent’ p-mode power from photosphere into chromosphere.
Figure 4: Mass-weighted vertical velocity along the flux tube as a function of height and time.

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This work was supported by NASA, the UK Particle Physics Research Council (PPARC) and NSF Hungary. The Swedish Solar Telescope is operated on the island of La Palma by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in the Spanish Observatorio del Roque de los Muchachos of the Instituto de Astrofisica de Canarias. R.E. thanks M. Kéray for encouragement. We thank C.J. Schrijver, T. Tarbell, M. DeRosa and A. Title for discussions, and M. Carlsson for pointing out the importance of 3 min oscillations.

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Correspondence to Bart De Pontieu.

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De Pontieu, B., Erdélyi, R. & James, S. Solar chromospheric spicules from the leakage of photospheric oscillations and flows. Nature 430, 536–539 (2004).

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