Alfven Wave Damping and Heating in the Solar Corona
Michael Hahn
Columbia University

Understanding the mechanism by which the solar corona is heated to over a million Kelvin has been an unresolved problem in astrophysics for over 80 years. One theory is that energy is carried by Alfven waves into the corona where the waves are damped, thereby converting their energy into plasma heating. Using spectroscopic observations, we have found evidence that Alfven waves do carry enough energy for the heating and are indeed damped at low heights in the corona, as required by wave heating models. However, the physical processes that cause the wave damping are unknown. We are now investigating the cause of this damping through both observations and laboratory experiments. Recently, we studied intensity fluctuations in EUV images obtained by the Sun Watcher with Active Pixels (SWAP) instrument on the Proba2 satellite. These intensity fluctuations are proportional to density fluctuations, and show that density fluctuations grow in amplitude at heights similar to where the Alfven waves are damped. The density fluctuations change the local Alfven speed and are expected to cause reflection of the Alfven waves. Thus, the density fluctuations may help trap Alfven wave energy and promote dissipation through turbulence between the outward and reflected waves. We have also been carrying out laboratory experiments using the Large Plasma Device at the University of California Los Angeles. There, we have studied the propagation of Alfven waves through Alfven-speed gradients similar to those in the corona. Our results confirm that the transmission of Alfven wave energy is significantly reduced by the gradient. Surprisingly, though, we have not observed any reflection of the Alfven waves, which is the mechanism predicted by theory to be responsible for the reduced transmittance.