Bipolar magnetic regions on the sun: Global analysis of the soho/mdi data set

J. O. Stenflo, A. G. Kosovichev

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The magnetic flux that is generated by dynamo processes inside the Sun emerges in the form of bipolar magnetic regions. The properties of these directly observable signatures of the dynamo can be extracted from full-disk solar magnetograms. The most homogeneous, high-quality synoptic data set of solar magnetograms has been obtained with the Michelson Doppler Imager (MDI) instrument on the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory spacecraft during 1995-2011. We have developed an IDL program that has, when applied to the 73,838 magnetograms of the MDI data set, automatically identified 160,079 bipolar magnetic regions that span a range of scale sizes across nearly four orders of magnitude. The properties of each region have been extracted and statistically analyzed, in particular with respect to the polarity orientations of the bipolar regions, including their tilt-angle distributions and their violations of Hale's polarity law. The latitude variation of the average tilt angles (with respect to the E-W direction), which is known as Joy's law, is found to closely follow the relation 321 × sin (latitude). There is no indication of a dependence on region size that one may expect if the tilts were produced by the Coriolis force during the buoyant rise of flux loops from the tachocline region. A few percent of all regions have orientations that violate Hale's polarity law. We show explicit examples, from different phases of the solar cycle, where well-defined medium-size bipolar regions with opposite polarity orientations occur side by side in the same latitude zone in the same magnetogram. Such oppositely oriented large bipolar regions cannot be part of the same toroidal flux system, but different flux systems must coexist at any given time in the same latitude zones. These examples are incompatible with the paradigm of coherent, subsurface toroidal flux ropes as the source of sunspots, and instead show that fluctuations must play a major role at all scales for the turbulent dynamo. To confirm the profound role of fluctuations at large scales, we show explicit examples in which large bipolar regions differ from the average Joy's law orientation by an amount between 90°and 100°. We see no observational support for a separation of scales or a division between a global and a local dynamo, since also the smallest scales in our sample retain a non-random component that significantly contributes to the accumulated emergence of a north-south dipole moment that will lead to the replacement of the old global poloidal field with a new one that has the opposite orientation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number129
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2012
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


  • Sun: activity
  • Sun: dynamo
  • Sun: interior
  • Sun: surface magnetism


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