A universal model for solar eruptions



Magnetically driven eruptions on the Sun, from stellar-scale coronal mass ejections1 to small-scale coronal X-ray and extreme-ultraviolet jets2,3,4, have frequently been observed to involve the ejection of the highly stressed magnetic flux of a filament5,6,7,8,9. Theoretically, these two phenomena have been thought to arise through very different mechanisms: coronal mass ejections from an ideal (non-dissipative) process, whereby the energy release does not require a change in the magnetic topology, as in the kink or torus instability10,11; and coronal jets from a resistive process2,12 involving magnetic reconnection. However, it was recently concluded from new observations that all coronal jets are driven by filament ejection, just like large mass ejections13. This suggests that the two phenomena have physically identical origin and hence that a single mechanism may be responsible, that is, either mass ejections arise from reconnection, or jets arise from an ideal instability. Here we report simulations of a coronal jet driven by filament ejection, whereby a region of highly sheared magnetic field near the solar surface becomes unstable and erupts. The results show that magnetic reconnection causes the energy release via ‘magnetic breakout’—a positive-feedback mechanism between filament ejection and reconnection. We conclude that if coronal mass ejections and jets are indeed of physically identical origin (although on different spatial scales) then magnetic reconnection (rather than an ideal process) must also underlie mass ejections, and that magnetic breakout is a universal model for solar eruptions.

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Figure 1: The simulated mini-filament jet evolution.
Figure 2: Three-dimensional structure of the filament field and the jet.
Figure 3: Schematic of the breakout process.
Figure 4: Energy stored and released during the simulation.


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P.F.W. was supported by a Royal Astronomical Society Fellowship at Durham University and previously by a NASA Postdoctoral Program Fellowship at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. S.K.A. and C.R.D. were supported by NASA ‘Living With a Star’ and Heliophysics Supporting Research grants. The numerical simulations were supported by NASA High-End Computing allocations to C.R.D. on discover at NASA’s Center for Climate Simulation.

Author information




P.F.W. designed and performed the numerical simulations, created the graphical outputs, and drafted the manuscript. S.K.A. conceived the investigation, consulted on the simulations, and revised the manuscript. C.R.D. developed the numerical model, assisted in designing the experiments, acquired the computer resources required, and revised the manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Peter F. Wyper.

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Reviewer Information Nature thanks K. Shibata and the other anonymous reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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Extended data figures and tables

Extended Data Figure 1 Estimate of the speed of the flux rope during the slow-rise phase.

a, Current density (saturated at 6 × 10−3 A m−2) in the z = 0 plane; x and y are the vertical and horizontal Cartesian coordinates. The green dot shows the position near the centre of the flux rope that is tracked in time. b, Inferred speed of the flux rope axis (diamond symbols); the solid line shows these data after applying a two-point boxcar smoothing. Source data

Extended Data Figure 2 Example of a mini-filament jet.

A large coronal jet produced in conjunction with the eruption of a mini-filament23, as seen by the Solar Dynamics Observatory’s Atmospheric Imaging Assembly in Fe xii at wavelength λ = 193 Å. ac, Images prior to the jet (a), during the jet (b) and after the jet (c). The inferred coronal loop structure is depicted in white in a. We are grateful to R. L. Moore for providing the unpublished video from which these images were extracted.

Extended Data Figure 3 The block-adapted mesh during the jet, in the z = 0 plane at t = 32 min 40 s.

Each box corresponds to a block of 8 × 8 × 8 cells. Grid parameters are chosen to refine in regions of medium- to high-current density, shown as regions of white and red. The grid increases in size by a factor of four during the simulation, and the minimum resolution is 104 km.

Supplementary information

The simulated mini-filament jet evolution

See Figure 1 and text for descriptions of the evolution and field lines/shading depicted. (MOV 80354 kb)

3D visualisation of the jet

See Figure 2 and text for descriptions of the evolution and field lines/iso-surfaces depicted. (MOV 69623 kb)

Mini-filament jet example

See Extended Data Figure 2 and text for description. (MOV 123150 kb)

Evolution of the flux rope during the slow rise phase

See Extended Data Figure 1 and Methods for descriptions of the shading the method for following the flux rope. (MOV 329 kb)

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Wyper, P., Antiochos, S. & DeVore, C. A universal model for solar eruptions. Nature 544, 452–455 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature22050

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