Magnetic Field Misbehavior

June 12, 2013
Gregory Eyink, professor of applied mathematics and statistics

Gregory Eyink
Professor of Applied Mathematics and Statistics

When a solar flare filled with charged particles erupts from the sun, its magnetic fields sometime break a widely accepted rule of physics. The flux-freezing theorem dictates that the magnetic lines of force should flow away in lockstep with the particles, whole and unbroken. Instead, the lines sometimes fracture and then quickly reconnect in a way that has long baffled astrophysicists.

Gregory Eyink, Department of Applied Mathematics and StatisticsBut using complex computer modeling, an interdisciplinary team led by mathematical physicist Gregory Eyink (shown at right) of the Department of Applied Mathematics and Statistics believes it has found the key to finally unlock that mystery.

It’s turbulence – the same sort of violent disorder that sometimes jostles passenger jets midflight.

Eyink contends that this research could lead to a better understanding of solar flares and mass ejections of material from the sun’s corona. Such powerful “space weather” or geomagnetic storms can endanger astronauts, knock out communications satellites and even lead to massive blackouts of electrical power grids on Earth, he says.

Co-authors of the Nature study from Johns Hopkins’s Whiting School of Engineering and Krieger School of Arts and Sciences were Cristian Lalescu and Hussein Aluie, from the Department of Applied Mathematics and Statistics; Kalin Kanov and Randal Burns, from the Department of Computer Science; Charles Meneveau, from the Department of Mechanical Engineering; and Alexander Szalay, from the Department of Physics and Astronomy.

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