Coronal heating by the partial relaxation of twisted loops
School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of St.
North Haugh, St. Andrews, KY16 9
2 Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics, Alan Turing Building, School of Physics and Astronomy, University of Manchester, Oxford Road, M13 9 PL Manchester, UK
Accepted: 24 November 2012
Context. Relaxation theory offers a straightforward method for estimating the energy that is released when continual convective driving causes a magnetic field to become unstable. Thus, an upper limit to the heating caused by ensembles of nanoflaring coronal loops can be calculated and checked against the level of heating required to maintain observed coronal temperatures (T ≳ 106 K).
Aims. We present new results obtained from nonlinear magnetohydrodynamic (MHD) simulations of idealised coronal loops. All of the initial loop configurations discussed are known to be linearly kink unstable. The purpose of this work is to determine whether or not the simulation results agree with Taylor relaxation, which will require a modified version of relaxation theory applicable to unbounded field configurations. In addition, we show for two cases how the relaxation process unfolds.
Methods. A three-dimensional (3D) MHD Lagrangian-remap code is used to simulate the evolution of a line-tied cylindrical coronal loop model. This model comprises three concentric layers surrounded by a potential envelope; hence, being twisted locally, each loop configuration is distinguished by a piecewise-constant current profile, featuring three parameters. Initially, all configurations carry zero-net-current fields and are in ideally unstable equilibrium. The simulation results are compared with the predictions of helicity-conserving relaxation theory.
Results. For all simulations, the change in helicity is no more than 2% of the initial value; also, the numerical helicities match the analytically-determined values. Magnetic energy dissipation predominantly occurs via shock heating associated with magnetic reconnection in distributed current sheets. The energy release and final field profiles produced by the numerical simulations are in agreement with the predictions given by a new model of partial relaxation theory: the relaxed field is close to a linear force free state; however, the extent of the relaxation region is limited, while the loop undergoes some radial expansion.
Conclusions. The results presented here support the use of partial relaxation theory, specifically, when calculating the heating-event distributions produced by ensembles of kink-unstable loops. The energy release increases with relaxation radius; but, once the loop has expanded by more than 50%, further expansion yields little more energy. We conclude that the relaxation methodology may be used for coronal heating studies.
Key words: instabilities / magnetic fields / magnetic reconnection / magnetohydrodynamics (MHD) / plasmas / Sun: corona
© ESO, 2013