Letter | Published:

Magnetic cage and rope as the key for solar eruptions

Nature volume 554, pages 211215 (08 February 2018) | Download Citation


Solar flares are spectacular coronal events that release large amounts of energy. They are classified as either eruptive or confined1,2, depending on whether they are associated with a coronal mass ejection. Two types of model have been developed to identify the mechanism that triggers confined flares, although it has hitherto not been possible to decide between them because the magnetic field at the origin of the flares could not be determined with the required accuracy3,4,5,6,7,8. In the first type of model, the triggering is related to the topological complexity of the flaring structure, which implies the presence of magnetically singular surfaces9,10,11. This picture is observationally supported by the fact that radiative emission occurs near these features in many flaring regions12,13,14,15,16,17. The second type of model attributes a key role to the formation of a twisted flux rope, which becomes unstable. Its plausibility is supported by simulations18,19,20,21,22, by interpretations of some observations23,24 and by laboratory experiments25. Here we report modelling of a confined event that uses the measured photospheric magnetic field as input. We first use a static model to compute the slowly evolving magnetic state of the corona before the eruption, and then use a dynamical model to determine the evolution during the eruption itself. We find that a magnetic flux rope must be present throughout the entire event to match the field measurements. This rope evolves slowly before saturating and suddenly erupting. Its energy is insufficient to break through the overlying field, whose lines form a confining cage, but its twist is large enough to trigger a kink instability, leading to the confined flare, as previously suggested18,19. Topology is not the main cause of the flare, but it traces out the locations of the X-ray emission. We show that a weaker magnetic cage would have produced a more energetic eruption with a coronal mass ejection, associated with a predicted energy upper bound for a given region.

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We were granted access to the High Performance Computing resources of the Centre Informatique National de l’Enseignement Supérieur (CINES) and of the Institut du Développement et de Ressources en Informatique (IDRIS) under allocation 2016-16050438 made by Grand Equipement National de Calcul Intensif (GENCI) and also to the mesocentre Phymat of the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique/École Polytechnique. We acknowledge support of the Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales (CNES) and of the Direction Générale de l’Armement (DGA). T.A. thanks R. Huart for discussions. The Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) data are courtesy of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and the SDO/HMI and AIA science teams.

Author information


  1. CPHT, Ecole Polytechnique, CNRS, Université Paris-Saclay, Route de Saclay, 91128 Palaiseau, France.

    • Tahar Amari
  2. Centre de Physique Théorique, Ecole Polytechnique, F-91128 Palaiseau Cedex, France.

    • Aurélien Canou
  3. Université Paris Diderot, AIM, Sorbonne Paris Cité, CEA, CNRS, F-91191 Gif-sur-Yvette, France

    • Jean-Jacques Aly
  4. LPTMC, UMR 7600 of CNRS, Université Pierre et Marie Curie, Paris, France.

    • Francois Delyon
  5. INRIA Saclay Ile-de-France, Projet Gamma 3, 1 rue Honoré d’Estienne d’Orves, 91126 Palaiseau, France

    • Fréderic Alauzet


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T.A. and A.C. planned and performed the various calculations and analysis discussed with J.-J.A. T.A. and F.A. worked on the mesh adaptation strategy while F.D. worked with T.A. on MESHMHD. The manuscript was written by T.A. and J.-J.A. with feedback from A.C.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Correspondence to Tahar Amari.

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