Explanation of the sea-serpent magnetic structure of sunspot penumbrae

I. N. Kitiashvili, L. R. Bellot Rubio, A. G. Kosovichev, N. N. Mansour, A. Sainz Dalda, A. A. Wray

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20 Scopus citations


Recent spectro-polarimetric observations of a sunspot showed the formation of bipolar magnetic patches in the mid-penumbra and their propagation toward the outer penumbral boundary. The observations were interpreted as being caused by sea-serpent magnetic fields near the solar surface. In this Letter, we develop a three-dimensional radiative MHD numerical model to explain the sea-serpent structure and the wave-like behavior of the penumbral magnetic field lines. The simulations reproduce the observed behavior, suggesting that the sea-serpent phenomenon is a consequence of magnetoconvection in a strongly inclined magnetic field. It involves several physical processes: filamentary structurization, high-speed overturning convective motions in strong, almost horizontal magnetic fields with partially frozen field lines, and traveling convective waves. The results demonstrate a correlation of the bipolar magnetic patches with high-speed Evershed downflows in the penumbra. This is the first time that a three-dimensional numerical model of the penumbra results in downward-directed magnetic fields, an essential ingredient of sunspot penumbrae that has eluded explanation until now.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)L181-L184
JournalAstrophysical Journal Letters
Issue number2 PART 2
StatePublished - 2010
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


  • Sun: magnetic topology
  • sunspots


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