A Method to Determine the Heating Mechanisms of the Solar Corona

Eric Ronald Priest, CR Foley, J Heyvaerts, TD Arber, Duncan Hendry Mackay, JL Culhane, LW Acton

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105 Citations (Scopus)


One of the paradigms about coronal heating has been the belief that the mean or summit temperature of a coronal loop is completely insensitive to the nature of the heating mechanisms. However, we point out that the temperature profile along a coronal loop is highly sensitive to the form of the heating. For example, when a steady state heating is balanced by thermal conduction, a uniform heating function makes the heat flux a linear function of distance along the loop, while T-7/2 increases quadratically from the coronal footpoints; when the heating is concentrated near the coronal base, the heat flux is small and the T-7/2 profile is flat above the base; when the heat is focused near the summit of a loop, the heat flux is constant and T-7/2 is a linear function of distance below the summit. It is therefore important to determine how the heat deposition from particular heating mechanisms varies spatially within coronal structures such as loops or arcades and to compare it to high-quality measurements of the temperature profiles.

We propose a new two-part approach to try and solve the coronal heating problem, namely, first of all to use observed temperature profiles to deduce the form of the heating, and second to use that heating form to deduce the likely heating mechanism. In particular, we apply this philosophy to a preliminary analysis of Yohkoh observations of the large-scale solar corona. This gives strong evidence against heating concentrated near the loop base for such loops and suggests that heating uniformly distributed along the loop is slightly more likely than heating concentrated at the summit. The implication is that large-scale loops are heated in situ throughout their length, rather than being a steady response to low-lying heating near their feet or at their summits. Unless waves can be shown to produce a heating close enough to uniform, the evidence is therefore at present for these large loops more in favor of turbulent reconnection at many small randomly distributed current sheets, which is likely to be able to do so. In addition, we suggest that the decline in coronal intensity by a factor of 100 from solar maximum to solar minimum is a natural consequence of the observed ratio of magnetic field strength in active regions and the quiet Sun; the altitude of the maximum temperature in coronal holes may represent the dissipation height of Alfven waves by turbulent phase mixing; and the difference in maximum temperature in closed and open regimes may be understood in terms of the roles of the conductive flux there.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)pp.1002-1022.
Number of pages21
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 20 Aug 2000


  • sun : corona


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