Helioseismic observation of the structure and dynamics of a rotating sunspot beneath the solar surface

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Time-distance helioseismology is applied to study the subphotospheric structures and dynamics of an unusually fast-rotating sunspot observed by the Michelson Doppler Imager on board SOHO in 2000 August. The subsurface sound speed structures and velocity fields are obtained for the sunspot region at different depths from 0 to 12 Mm. By comparing the subsurface sound speed variations with the surface magnetic field, we find evidence for structural twists beneath the visible surface of this active region, which may indicate that magnetic twists often seen at the photosphere also exist beneath the photosphere. We also report on the observation of subsurface horizontal vortical flows that extend to a depth of 5 Mm around this rotating sunspot and present evidence that opposite vortical flows may exist below 9 Mm. It is suggested that the vortical flows around this active region may build up a significant amount of magnetic helicity and energy to power solar eruptions. Monte Carlo simulation has been performed to estimate the error propagation, and in addition the sunspot umbra is masked to test the reliability of our inversion results. On the basis of the three-dimensional velocity fields obtained from the time-distance helioseismology inversions, we estimate the subsurface kinetic helicity at different depths for the first time and conclude that it is comparable to the current helicity estimated from vector magnetograms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)446-453
Number of pages8
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number1 I
StatePublished - Jul 1 2003
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


  • Sun: helioseismology
  • Sun: interior
  • Sun: oscillations
  • Sunspots


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