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Working Papers: Astronomy and Astrophysics Panel Reports
0.5.4 Balanced support of experiments and theory. Balanced development of solar physics calls for consistent and realistic support of both theory and experimental efforts, including the support of theoretical work which is not directly tied to observational programs.
0.5.5 Interdisciplinary research. Neither the NSF nor NASA have a regular mechanism in place for handling interdisciplinary research programs. This is a particularly deeply felt problem in solar physics because solar physics research by its very nature tends to cross the discipline boundaries defined by the agencies. We therefore urge that provisions be made to allow such research programs access to funding.
0.5.6 Access to large-scale computing. Despite the vastly improved access to supercomputing afforded by the NSF Supercomputer Centers, it remains difficult to obtain large (> 200 hrs) contiguous allocations of supercomputer time. We therefore urge that exploratory programs initiated by NASA/Ames, NASA/Goddard, NCAR, and others to address this problem be strongly encouraged.
The following examples are just illustrative of the range of technologies with which solar physics is involved, and in which it plays a leading role. We strongly endorse a continued vigorous program in technological developments.
Active control of large structures in space. This will be needed in order to carry out the Pinhole Occulter Facility (P/OF), a major imaging facility at hard X-ray and gamma-ray energies with sub-arcsecond capabilities.
Adaptive optics, optimized for relatively low-contrast, extended images.
Capabilities for analysis of extremely large data sets (>1 Terabyte).
Improved, new-generation detectors for high energies (e.g., wide-band gap semiconductors, gamma-ray channeling detectors, etc.); and at infrared wavelengths (large format CCDs).
Further development of normal incidence EUV and X-ray optics for high angular resolution studies at these wavelengths.
1. AN OVERVIEW OF MODERN SOLAR PHYSICS
Recent theory and observation have established that the Sun is a complex dynamical structure, whose interior represents an active and mysterious universe of its own. There is no reason to doubt the basic features of stellar structure models, but it must be remembered that the ideal standard stellar model contains many arbitrary assumptions. The Sun is the only star that has been studied in detail, and the only detailed information we have is from scrutinizing its more or less inscrutable exterior. Its interior possesses internal degrees of freedom that are only gradually being discovered and described, and, once described, are only gradually being understood. Present knowledge of the interior of the Sun and stars is based largely on simplified static models constructed from the theoretical properties of particles and radiation as we presently understand them. Parameters can be adjusted to provide a static solar model whose radius and surface temperature agree with observation, and which represents a starting position for the next phase of the inquiry into stellar physics. This next phase concerns the dynamic and magnetic aspects of a star, a phase which is already well underway, and which is the primary focus of our report.
Now the dynamical effects ignored in the static models are already suggested by these models. Thus, for instance, the calculated temperature gradients indicate the existence of the convection zone, extending from the surface down a distance of about 0.3 solar radii. The gas continually overturns and operates as a heat engine whose work output is not subject to the usual thermodynamic limitations that apply to thermal energy. The activity at the surface of the Sun is a direct manifestation of this convective heat engine, which produces such diverse phenomena as sunspots, flares, coronal transients, the X-ray corona, and the solar wind, largely through the magnetic field as an intermediary. It seems not to be generally recognized in the astronomical community and elsewhere that the precise causes of solar activity are not yet reduced to hard science. For instance, it cannot be stated why the Sun, or any other solitary star, is compelled to emit X-rays, nor is it understood why a star like the Sun is subject to a mass loss of 1012 gm/sec. Indeed, it is not altogether clear why the Sun chooses to operate a 22-year magnetic cycle, producing the other aspects