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Modelling an X-class solar flare combining observations, electron beam transport physics and MHD numerical simulations (Advert Reference: STFC21/EE/MPEE/BOTHAGert)

Faculty of Engineering and Environment

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Dr Gert Botha No more applications being accepted Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)
Newcastle United Kingdom Applied Mathematics Astronomy Astrophysics Computational Physics Data Science Environmental Physics Geophysics Machine Learning Mathematical Modelling Space Science

About the Project

Solar flares are the largest explosions in the solar system. The energy released spans the full range of the electromagnetic spectrum and in every second they release the equivalent of 50 million “Tsar Bomba” (the name given to the most powerful hydrogen bomb ever detonated on Earth). X-class flares are the most powerful class of solar flare and this research proposal will explore one of the most unique observations ever taken of an X-class flare, lasting for 1 hour on 10-June-2014, offering bespoke images and spectral diagnostics at incredible spatial and temporal resolution. The flare ribbons imaged are intensely bright, signifying the collision of powerful electron beams that traverse from the relatively low plasma density solar corona into the relatively high-density chromosphere below, leading to Bremsstrahlung radiation. The chromosphere responds to this beam injection by rapidly heating and expanding into post-flare magnetic arcades filling the loops with high-speed counter-flowing dense plasma, giving rise a wide range of plasma fluid instabilities. We can constrain the physical processes in solar flares by diagnosing and forward modelling the highly-resolved spectral observations, assimilating them into numerical models of plasma flows and deriving electron beam properties. 

The Aim of the project is to understand fundamental plasma physics processes in solar flares, using a unique observation at the highest resolution of a rarely observed X-class flare. Detailed exploration of the rapidly evolving large-scale flare phenomenon will be achieved using coordinated space- and ground based multi-instrument observations spanning a wide range of absorption and emission spectral lines in the near-IR, visible, (E)UV and X-ray wavelength channels. Data assimilation allows us to develop sophisticated models of the electron beam transport leading to the flare ribbon formation, as well as to initialise advanced 3D MHD simulations of the chromospheric response to the flare ribbon formation. 

Objective 1: Exploration of flare ribbon formation and evolution. The researcher will learn image processing techniques and explore the Swedish 1-m Solar Telescope and Solar Dynamics Observatory image and spectral observations of the flare ribbon formation, utilising 3D visualisation software. These will be used to characterise the flare ribbons’ statistical properties and dynamic behaviour. 

Objective 2: Electron beam transport modelling incorporating observations of X-ray signatures during the flare. X-ray signatures from RHESSI observations of the flare that capture emission near the source of the electron beam acceleration site will be forward-modelled using object-based spectroscopy software. This will allow us to examine the electron flux properties near the loop tops in the corona and during ribbon formation in the chromosphere. The results derived from Objective 1 can be used to model the transport and energy deposition of electrons. 

Objective 3: 3D MHD modelling of post-flare loop formation. Using the observationally derived properties from Objective 1 and Objective 2, the researcher will develop advanced 3D MHD models of plasma flows and instabilities in curved loop simulations using the numerical code Lare3D. We shall explore the response of magnetic post-flare loops to strong footpoint heating.

The Principal Supervisor for this project is Dr. Gert Botha.

Eligibility and How to Apply:

Please note eligibility requirement:

·      Academic excellence of the proposed student i.e. 2:1 (or equivalent GPA from non-UK universities [preference for 1st class honours]); or a Masters (preference for Merit or above); or APEL evidence of substantial practitioner achievement.

·      Appropriate IELTS score, if required.

·      Applicants cannot apply for this funding if currently engaged in Doctoral study at Northumbria or elsewhere.

For further details of how to apply, entry requirements and the application form, see 

Please note: Applications that do not include the advert reference (e.g. STFC21/EE/MPEE/BOTHAGert) will not be considered.

·      You do not need to submit a research proposal for this project as it has already been defined by the supervisor.

·      If you have your own research idea and wish to pursue that, then this is also possible - please indicate this on your application (if this is the case, then please include a research proposal of approximately 1,000 words).

Deadline for applications: 28 April 2021

Start Date: 1 October 2021 or 1 March 2022

Northumbria University takes pride in, and values, the quality and diversity of our staff. We welcome applications from all members of the community.

Funding Notes

The studentship is available to Home* or International (including EU) Students and includes a full stipend, paid for 3.5 years at RCUK rates (for 2021/2, this is £15,609 p.a.) and full tuition fees.
* Please note that in order to be classed as Home Student, candidates must meet the following criteria:
- be a UK National (meeting residency requirements), or
- have settled status, or
- have pre-settled status (meeting residency requirements), or
- have indefinite leave to remain or enter.


Further details on this project and other STFC funded projects can be found at:
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