Solar flares - unlocking the secrets of the sun's energy
“Humanity is part of a vast evolving universe… The forces of nature make existence a demanding and uncertain adventure...”
>The Earth Charter, 2000.
On March 13, 1989 the entire Canadian province of Quebec – home to 6 million people – suffered a power black-out for eight hours in sub-zero temperatures after a solar flare caused a vital capacitor on the power grid to fail, sparking a disastrous sequence of events costing tens of millions of dollars.
Solar flares are the biggest explosions in the solar system, unleashing the equivalent of a billion megatons of TNT in seconds and showering the earth with x-rays and gamma rays that disrupt satellite-based telecommunication systems and cause power surges in the world’s electrical grids.
Understanding the causes of solar flares would not only give greater warning of their occurrence to allow for protective measures, but could also provide the key to one of science’s holy grails – fusion energy.
Waikato University’s Professors Ian Craig and Alfred Sneyd, and Associate Professor Sean Oughton are working at the cutting edge of astrophysics developing mathematical models to explain the dynamic nature of the magnetic fields that rise to the surface of the sun, causing sunspots that store and release energy – sometimes quietly, and sometimes explosively in a solar flare.
External funding gratefully acknowledged: Marsden Fund, Foundation for Research, Science and Technology.
DEPARTMENT OF MATHEMATICS
FACULTY OF COMPUTING AND MATHEMATICAL SCIENCES