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Physics
Name of the Faculty Mentor: Dr. Joan Schmelz

Faculty Mentor’s Department: Physics

Telephone Number and/or Email Address: jschmelz@memphis.edu

Project Description:Dr. Joan Schmelz and her students are investigating what has come to be called the “Coronal Loop Controversy.” The research involves the corona, the atmosphere of the Sun, using data from NASA satellites. The source of coronal heating is one of the longest standing unsolved mysteries in all of astrophysics. The temperature at the surface of the Sun is ~5000 degrees, but it rises to over a million degrees in the corona. This requires a permanent heating mechanism, or the gas would cool down in about an hour. Physicists agree that this mechanism involves the Sun’s magnetic field, but few agree on the details of how magnetic energy in converted into thermal energy. Coronal loops, their structure and sub-structure, their temperature and density details, and their evolution with time, hold the key to understanding this coronal heating mystery. A loop had always been thought of as a simple magnetic flux tube, where each position is characterized by a single temperature and density. Recent results, however, found that this simple picture could not explain the observations. This project uses NASA data to construct multi-thermal distributions of the plasma at different positions along the loop.

Requirements for Student Applicants: Taken PHYS 2120 (physics II with calculus)

Starting Date: Feb 1

Method of Compensation: Academic Credit

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Last Updated: 11/19/12