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4.5 Energy input into the corona

The heating of the corona is a long standing debate and is not the issue here. We may still ask the question of the resulting energy input into the corona based on the new findings on flares. Obviously, large flares occurring in active regions during solar maximum are unlikely candidates. The existence of tiny flares unobservable by current instruments is a questionable hypothesis.
View Image

Figure 25: Time profile of nanoflare observed in Fe xi/x, and Fe xii lines at 17.1 nm and 19.5 nm by EIT/SOHO. Top panel: temperature averaged over the area of the event; second panel: the emission measure; third panel: radio flux observed by the VLA at 6 and 3.6 cm wavelength at the location of the 6 cm peak; bottom panel: same at the location of the 3.6 cm peak.

The question of flare heating has come up again recently by observations of extremely small brightenings in soft X-rays in the quiet corona (Krucker et al., 1997b). Some of the larger events have been found to correlate with centimeter radio emission. Similar events have also been reported in high-temperature EUV lines (Benz and Krucker, 1998Berghmans et al., 1998Krucker and Benz, 1998Jump To The Next Citation Point). Figure 25View Image shows the time profiles of two radio sources at the opposite ends of a small Fe xii loop. In one of them (third panel), the radio source has a negative slope (3.8 cm flux larger than 2 cm flux), indicating gyrosynchrotron emission. The radio peaks occur before the temperature maximum and emission measure peak of the thermal EUV emission, following the Neupert relation between thermal and non-thermal flare emissions. The other source (fourth panel) has an increasing spectrum, indicating optically thick thermal radio emission, coincident with the EUV emission. The events were soon realized to be at least similar to regular flares and thus termed nanoflares. The most relevant difference to regular flares is the order of magnitude lower ratio of synchrotron emission to soft X-rays compared to regular flares (Benz, 2001).

The pertinent question is how much the observed flare-like events contribute to the heating of the corona. The largest nanoflares reported contain energies of a few 1026 erg (Krucker and Benz, 1998Jump To The Next Citation Point). This number refers to the thermal energy in the soft X-rays emitting flare plasma and is identical to the largest individual flare-like events inferred from Fe xi/x, and Fe xii lines. It does not include coronal bright points, locations in the quiet corona where continuous flaring during many hours is observed. The smallest flares reported given by the TRACE instrumental limit is a few 1023 erg (Parnell and Jupp, 2000). The rate of events larger than few 1024 erg and lasting about 15 minutes each, estimated over the whole Sun is 300 per second (Krucker and Benz, 1998). Benz and Krucker (2002) have estimated that the total energy measured in nanoflares in the energy range from 5×1024 erg to 5×1026 erg observable by EIT/SOHO amounts to about 12% of the radiated energy of the observed coronal area.

This review of flare observations emphasizes that the thermal energy measured at peak soft X-ray or EUV emission is not equivalent to the total flare energy input into the corona. Most of the thermal flare plasma is just the reaction of the chromosphere on a coronal phenomenon. We may thus end this short subchapter by the conclusion that the cause of coronal heating by flares needs more quantitative modeling. Flare heating cannot be quantitatively assessed from observations of one energy receiving channel alone as long as the energy partition of regular flares into waves, direct heating, motion, and particle acceleration is unclear.


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