The Link Between Solar Coronal Heating and Particle Acceleration


   Department of Space & Climate Physics

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  Dr Hamish Reid  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Our Sun’s atmosphere, the solar corona, is extremely unstable. Magnetic instabilities heat the corona to 1 million degrees and occasional explosions known as solar flares accelerate particle beams to near-light speeds. The strong magnetic fields above sunspots can cause the corona to become even hotter, up to 3 million degrees. Mini solar flares can be triggered over hours or even days, continuously accelerating particles. One would naively expect the heating above active regions to be linked to the continuous particle acceleration. However, the link between the accelerated particles and the super-heated plasma above active regions has remained elusive for many years. In part due to a lack of resolution in our telescopes.

The recent launch of ESA’s Solar Orbiter spacecraft has provided the closest, most detailed view of solar active regions through the Extreme Ultraviolet Imager (EUI) telescope. We can now observe many small-scale phenomena (1000 km is small on the Sun!), such as solar “campfires”, that are like mini solar flares, where the corona gets locally heated to 2 million degrees. We can also observe accelerated particles better than before using new-age radio interferometers like the Low Frequency Array (LOFAR). Radio waves are emitted by the accelerated particles as they travel through the hot corona and out through our solar system.

During this PhD, we will investigate the link between the small brightening events that locally heat the corona and the radio signatures of the accelerated particles. We will analyse how both signatures evolve with time and compare the spatial extent of each signature to finally show the link between small-scale plasma heating and weak particle acceleration events. Whilst space-based and ground-based imaging will be used, there is also scope to measure these accelerated particles close to the Sun using the onboard detectors of Solar Orbiter and NASA’s Parker Solar Probe spacecraft. MSSL plays an integral part of the Solar Orbiter mission and contributed towards the construction of the EUI camera. Consequently, you will be able to work directly with the EUI team and collaborate with international scientists around the world to develop and hone your research skills. There is also the opportunity to visit one of these international teams for an extended duration. Finally, there is also the possibility of simulating the propagation of these near-relativistic particle beams using our high-performance, parallelised code, to explore how much local heating is generated as these beams travel outwards from the Sun.

Desired Knowledge and Skills 

  • Undergraduate modules in plasma physics, solar physics or astrophysics.
  • Strong computational skills including experience of programming in Python.

Entry requirements

An upper second-class Bachelor’s degree, or a second-class Bachelor’s degree together with a Master's degree from a UK university in a relevant subject, or an equivalent overseas qualification.

Additional eligibility requirements

The STFC studentship will pay your full tuition fees and a maintenance allowance for 3.5 years (subject to the PhD upgrade review).

Additional information

This project is based in the Department of Space & Climate Physics, located at the Mullard Space Science Laboratory (MSSL) in Holmbury, Surrey. MSSL is located in remote countryside in Surrey. There is limited public transport to reach the site. Before you apply to study for a PhD in our department, please check our location carefully and consider how you will regularly commute to MSSL.

How to apply

Our STFC studentships starting in September 2024 are open for applications until 26th January 2024.  

For details of how to apply please refer to our website: PhD Opportunities | UCL Department of Space and Climate Physics - UCL – University College London


Physics (29)

 About the Project