The writhe of helical structures in the solar corona
LESIA, Observatoire de Paris, CNRS, UPMC, Université Paris Diderot, 5 place Jules Janssen, 92190 Meudon, France e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
2 University College London, Mullard Space Science Laboratory, Holmbury St. Mary, Dorking, Surrey, RH5 6NT, UK
3 University of Exeter, SECAM, Exeter, EX4 4QE, UK
4 Universität Potsdam, Institut für Physik und Astronomie, 14482 Potsdam, Germany
5 Naval Research Laboratory, Space Science Division, Washington, DC 20375, USA
Accepted: 21 April 2010
Context. Helicity is a fundamental property of magnetic fields, conserved in ideal MHD. In flux rope geometry, it consists of twist and writhe helicity. Despite the common occurrence of helical structures in the solar atmosphere, little is known about how their shape relates to the writhe, which fraction of helicity is contained in writhe, and how much helicity is exchanged between twist and writhe when they erupt.
Aims. Here we perform a quantitative investigation of these questions relevant for coronal flux ropes.
Methods. The decomposition of the writhe of a curve into local and nonlocal components greatly facilitates its computation. We use it to study the relation between writhe and projected S shape of helical curves and to measure writhe and twist in numerical simulations of flux rope instabilities. The results are discussed with regard to filament eruptions and coronal mass ejections (CMEs).
Results. (1) We demonstrate that the relation between writhe and projected S shape is not unique in principle, but that the ambiguity does not affect low-lying structures, thus supporting the established empirical rule which associates stable forward (reverse) S shaped structures low in the corona with positive (negative) helicity. (2) Kink-unstable erupting flux ropes are found to transform a far smaller fraction of their twist helicity into writhe helicity than often assumed. (3) Confined flux rope eruptions tend to show stronger writhe at low heights than ejective eruptions (CMEs). This argues against suggestions that the writhing facilitates the rise of the rope through the overlying field. (4) Erupting filaments which are S shaped already before the eruption and keep the sign of their axis writhe (which is expected if field of one chirality dominates the source volume of the eruption), must reverse their S shape in the course of the rise. Implications for the occurrence of the helical kink instability in such events are discussed. (5) The writhe of rising loops can easily be estimated from the angle of rotation about the direction of ascent, once the apex height exceeds the footpoint separation significantly.
Conclusions. Writhe can straightforwardly be computed for numerical data and can often be estimated from observations. It is useful in interpreting S shaped coronal structures and in constraining models of eruptions.
Key words: magnetic fields / magnetohydrodynamics (MHD) / Sun: corona / Sun: filaments, prominences / Sun: coronal mass ejections (CMEs)
© ESO, 2010