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4.4 Other energies

The energy in the non-thermal ions is less known than for electrons. Ramaty et al. (1995) have argued that the fraction of the available flare energy that is contained in accelerated ions above 1 MeV is similar to that of electrons above 20 keV. This conclusion is supported by the observations that the derived non-thermal energy in protons is comparable within an order of magnitude to the non-thermal energy in electrons (e.g., Cliver et al., 1994Miller et al., 1997Jump To The Next Citation Point). The above observations, however, leave doubtful whether the energy in non-thermal electrons and ions add up to the energy of flares observed in total irradiance (see Table 1).

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Figure 24: mpg-Movie (3460 KB) An overview in Fe xii EUV emission observed by EIT/SOHO, later zooming into the observations by TRACE, both showing thermal coronal emission of a plasma at about 1.5 MK. The 12 – 25 keV hard X-ray emission observed by RHESSI is shown in red and yellow colors (courtesy of Pascal Saint-Hilaire).

The possibility remains that some energy propagates from the release site to the chromosphere by means of low energy (non-thermal) particles below the current threshold for X-ray detection or by heat conduction (i.e., thermal particles). This is supported by the observation that in a quarter of the events there is clear evidence for the presence of an additional energy transport mechanism other than non-thermal electron beams (Veronig et al., 20022005). Furthermore, the relative contribution to energy transport by non-thermal electrons is found to decrease with the flare importance and in the late phase of flares.

Other forms of energy must also be considered. The reconnection process releases bipolar outflows that may be observed as ejections. Magnetic field and plasma are expelled from the X-point where oppositely directed field lines meet. Reconnection jets may not propagate far and are distinct from CMEs. Saint-Hilaire and Benz (2002) observed a stopped ejection in a flare and measured an initial kinetic energy of motion of about 1029 erg, about the same as the thermal energy in the soft X-ray plasma, and interpreted it as a reconnection jet (Figure 24Watch/download Movie). The thermal energy that such ejections contain was found even an order of magnitude larger, but it was not possible to estimate what fraction of it originated in the flare.

A further form of energy is the work done by the expansion of the heated flare plasma from chromospheric density to the observed value of the thermal X-ray source. This expansion in volume by a factor of 103 or more, may consume more energy than its heating (Benz and Krucker, 2002Jump To The Next Citation Point). The expansion energy is released when the material cools and rains back to the chromosphere. A fraction is finally radiated away at temperatures below coronal. Other forms of direct energy release, such direct coronal heating are not yet reliably measurable. The uncertainties in these estimates make it difficult to assess the energy partition of flares and their contribution to coronal heating.


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