Researchers «Attack» the Sun from all angles

Sun Research- We hope that through cooperation we can develop a 3D model of the whole Sun. It can be an important tool for studying and visualising the various processes in the Sun, says Mats Carlsson. Photo: Gunhild M. Haugnes / UiO

Top researchers «Attack» the Sun from all angles

 With € 11 million extra from the European Union (EU), four top research communities hope to reveal several of the many mysteries of Helios. Sun physicists from UiO are among them. By developing smarter 3D models, researchers will acquire more knowledge of our – by far -most important star.


– We have a lot of complementary competence and strongly believe that together we will be able to understand much more about the Sun, says Professor Mats Carlsson, who is at the forefront of the prestigious solar physics environment at UiO.

Helios (The Sun) is vital for all life on the planet we live on. But even though it is shining 24/7 and scientists are increasingly gaining the understanding of it, it still – in many ways – remains an enigma.

A top-heavy quartet is on the case

The Sun physicist group at UiO is one of four European research communities that, in close cooperation, hope to solve several of the mysteries shrouding the shiny star. The project has been dubbed «Whole Sun». Over a six-year period, the researchers, among other goals, aim to develop a 3D model that they can use to test out ideas and theories.

This is done through the giant research project ERC-SyG (European Research Council – Synergy Grant). This is an honourable stipend where former winners of prestigious ERC stipendiatæ dominate among the applicants. The fight for such scholarships is fierce.

– The four research communities are equal partners, Carlsson emphasises.

How is the magnetism created?

Carlsson and the other Sun physicists at UiO have much competence on the outer parts of the atmosphere surrounding Ra, with regards the chromosphere and the corona.  The researchers for a long time have pondered on why the temperature is much higher farther from the Sun than it is closer to the surface of it. Now they believe that it is linked to magnetism.

– We understand ever more about how this part of the Sun functions. But the magnetic fields are formed in the interior of the Sun, and what happens there is not included in our research model. We simply do not know how magnetism is created, he tells to

Carlsson highlights that here they will benefit from the expertise of the Saclay Centre research group in Paris. At Saclay, the researchers work on how magnetism is created in the interior of the Sun.

– And our colleagues at St Andrews University in Scotland specialise in the movements between the various layers of the Sun, Carlsson informs.

The fourth partner, the Max Planck Institute in Germany, uses helioseismology to study the structure and dynamics of the Sun through its fluctuations. You look at sound waves which flow through the Sun, enabling you to observe what is happening both in the interior and atmosphere of the Sun.

This is in many ways reminiscent of the technology that oil companies and researchers use to retrieve seismic data from below the seabed using sound waves.

Sun observations in the Canary Islands

In addition to these four, the project also has a fifth partner, the Spanish Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias of the coast of North Africa.

– They help us to use the unique solar observatories on Tenerife and La Palma, says Carlsson, who also hopes to draw on resources from the Solarnet-network, which aims to integrate all European infrastructures in solar physics.

– We hope that through cooperation we can develop a 3D model of the whole Sun. It can be an important tool for studying and visualising the various processes in the Sun, according to Carlsson.

€ 2.2 million to UiO

The project has a framework of 11 € million (NOK 105 million), of which UiO’s share is € 2.2 million (NOK 21 million, give or take).

Most of the money will help pay the salaries of the researchers. At UiO, there are initially is six positions over three years, a total of 18 man years. In addition, all of these environments are major consumers of computing power. Carlson estimates that researchers over the six-year lifespan of the project will spend ten times as much computing power as they do today.

During the six years the project lasts, it is suggested that researchers from the four partners work together for a full month in stretch each year – a kind of a kick-off to update each other and float new ideas.

Busy schedule for Carlsson & company

Carlsson has enough to fill his days. He is the leader of RoCS (Rosseland Centre for Solar Physics), a newly established SFF (Centre for Excellence Research) under the auspices of the Norwegian Research Council – with a budget of NOK 170 million over ten years, on top of this.

RoCS is also about understanding the Sun better, and several of the Sun physicists at UiO will be involved in both projects. With the help of observations and advanced data modelling, more knowledge about particle acceleration and heating in and around the Sun will be gained.

This research will, hopefully, be of great importance in determining the processes that influence the conditions of life on earth. One of the purposes is also to study the magnetic fields during the 11-year cycle of the Sun.

Carlsson is extremely pleased that the solar physics environment has been granted two major prestige projects in a short period of time, and is not afraid that they will not be able to cope with both of them.

– We have a very professional and competent staff, he smiles.

Participants in «Whole Sun»

  • University of Oslo (UIO), Mats Carlsson.
  • Commisariat a l’Energie Atomique et aux Energies Alternatives, Saclay, Allan Sacha Brun.
  • Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, Laurent Gizon.
  • University of St. Andrews, Vasilis Archontis.

Facts about the Sun

  • The Sun: The star at the centre of the solar system, the earth and other objects (planets, asteroids, meteoroids, comets and dust) orbit around it. It is spherical and consists of hot plasma interwoven in magnetic fields. The diameter is 1,392,000 kilometres (about 109 times larger diameter than Gaia).
  • The Photosphere: The visible surface of a star, such as the Sun. Sunspots and faculae (dark and light spots) can be observed on the photosphere.
  • The Chromosphere: Together with the Corona, makes up the atmosphere of the Sun. It is located above the photosphere and stretches 2500 kilometres out into space. It is relatively transparent and consists largely of hydrogen.
  • The Corona: The outermost layer in the atmosphere of the Sun, a blue-white ray-crown with a range of several Sun radiæ, visible to the naked eye only during total solar eclipses.


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