A Power-Law Distribution of Solar Magnetic Fields Over More Than Five Decades in Flux

Clare Elizabeth Parnell, Craig De Forest, Hermance Hagenaar, Blair Johnston, Derek Lamb, Brian Welsch

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

124 Citations (Scopus)


Solar flares, coronal mass ejections, and indeed phenomena on all scales observed on the Sun, are inextricably linked with the Sun's magnetic field. The solar surface is covered with magnetic features observed on many spatial scales, which evolve on differing timescales: the largest features, sunspots, follow an 11-year cycle; the smallest seem to follow no cycle. Here, we analyze magnetograms from Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO)/Michelson Doppler Imager (full disk and high resolution) and Hinode/Solar Optical Telescope to determine the fluxes of all currently observable surface magnetic features. We show that by using a "clumping" algorithm, which counts a single "flux massif" as one feature, all feature fluxes, regardless of flux strength, follow the same distribution—a power law with slope -1.85 ± 0.14—between 2 × 1017 and 1023 Mx. A power law suggests that the mechanisms creating surface magnetic features are scale-free. This implies that either all surface magnetic features are generated by the same mechanism, or that they are dominated by surface processes (such as fragmentation, coalescence, and cancellation) in a way which leads to a scale-free distribution.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)75-82
Number of pages8
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2009


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