Is magnetic topology important for heating the solar atmosphere?

Clare E. Parnell*, Julie E.H. Stevenson, James Threlfall, Sarah J. Edwards

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)
7 Downloads (Pure)


Magnetic fields permeate the entire solar atmosphere weaving an extremely complex pattern on both local and global scales. In order to understand the nature of this tangled web of magnetic fields, its magnetic skeleton, which forms the boundaries between topologically distinct flux domains, may be determined. The magnetic skeleton consists of null points, separatrix surfaces, spines and separators. The skeleton is often used to clearly visualize key elements of the magnetic configuration, but parts of the skeleton are also locations where currents and waves may collect and dissipate. In this review, the nature of the magnetic skeleton on both global and local scales, over solar cycle time scales, is explained. The behaviour of wave pulses in the vicinity of both nulls and separators is discussed and so too is the formation of current layers and reconnection at the same features. Each of these processes leads to heating of the solar atmosphere, but collectively do they provide enough heat, spread over a wide enough area, to explain the energy losses throughout the solar atmosphere? Here, we consider this question for the three different solar regions: Active regions, open-field regions and the quiet Sun. We find that the heating of active regions and open-field regions is highly unlikely to be due to reconnection or wave dissipation at topological features, but it is possible that these may play a role in the heating of the quiet Sun. In active regions, the absence of a complex topology may play an important role in allowing large energies to build up and then, subsequently, be explosively released in the form of a solar flare. Additionally, knowledge of the intricate boundaries of open-field regions (which the magnetic skeleton provides) could be very important in determining the main acceleration mechanism(s) of the solar wind.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20140264
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society. A, Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences
Issue number2042
Early online date20 Apr 2015
Publication statusPublished - 28 May 2015


  • Corona
  • Coronal heating
  • Magnetic fields
  • Solar atmosphere


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