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The magnetic nature of solar flares

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The main challenge for the theory of solar eruptions has been to understand two basic aspects of large flares. These are the cause of the flare itself and the nature of the morphological features which form during its evolution. Such features include separating ribbons of H\(\alpha\) emission joined by a rising arcade of soft x-ray loops, with hard x-ray emission at their summits and at their feet. Two major advances in our understanding of the theory of solar flares have recently occurred. The first is the realisation that a magnetohydrodynamic (MHD) catastrophe is probably responsible for the basic eruption and the second is that the eruption is likely to drive a reconnection process in the field lines stretched out by the eruption. The reconnection is responsible for the ribbons and the set of rising soft x-ray loops, and such a process is well supported by numerical experiments and detailed observations from the Japanese satellite Yohkoh.

Magnetic energy conversion by reconnection in two dimensions is relatively well understood, but in three dimensions we are only starting to understand the complexity of the magnetic topology and the MHD dynamics which are involved. How the dynamics lead to particle acceleration is even less well understood. Particle acceleration in flares may in principle occur in a variety of ways, such as stochastic acceleration by MHD turbulence, acceleration by direct electric fields at the reconnection site, or diffusive shock acceleration at the different kinds of MHD shock waves that are produced during the flare. However, which of these processes is most important for producing the energetic particles that strike the solar surface remains a mystery.

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Received 2 January 2001 / Published online 17 July 2001

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Priest, E., Forbes, T. The magnetic nature of solar flares. The Astron Astrophys Rev 10, 313–377 (2002). https://doi.org/10.1007/s001590100013

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s001590100013

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