HEA Research: Stellar Corona

Surveys of the X-ray sky by the Einstein satellite in the late 1970's established normal stars as copious sources of X-rays. In the case of late-type stars like the Sun, X-rays are produced by a "corona" - a multi-million degree plasma confined by magnetic fields generated in the stellar interior and brought to the surface by their own buoyancy.

We use data from satellites observing from UV to X-rays to study the high energy physics of stars. The range of these studies is vast. Star and planet formation, the evolution of planetary atmospheres, magnetic dynamo processes at work in stellar interiors, the angular momentum evolution of stars, and the origin and acceleration of stellar winds and mass loss are all manifest in, or dependent on, the processes at work in the multi-million degree X-ray emitting outer atmospheres and winds of stars.

High energy phenomena in non-degenerate stars and protostars also offer prototypical examples of plasma and processes that occur on much larger scales in the more distant cosmic X-ray sources---from magnetic reconnection and flares illuminating accretion disks of black holes in active galactic nuclei to X-ray binaries, to the radiatively-driven winds and outflows of these accretion disks, to the hot and tenuous optically-thin plasma of galactic interstellar media and clusters of galaxies. Paradoxically, stars also present us with one of the greatest unsolved problems of modern astrophysics: the heating mechanism of stellar coronae.

Project Links People

Jeremy Drake, Nancy Evans, Vinay Kashyap, Magarita Karovska, Steve Saar, Brad Wargelin


The outer atmospheres of late-type stars are comprised of multi-million degree plasma confined by magnetic fields. The hot plasma emits X-rays as revealed in this image of the Sun obtained by the Soft X-ray Telescope on the Yohkoh satellite. We use X-ray telescopes such as NASA's Chandra X-ray observatory to study similar activity on other stars, some of which can be 10,000 times as bright as the Sun in X-rays.


This image shows a model of the coronal magnetic field of the "flip-flop" dynamo star FK Comae, a rapidly rotating G giant. The magnetic field lines are based on a model of the stars dynamo, which is seen to produce particular regions of enhanced activity shown by the red and blue areas of opposite magnetic polarity. X-ray spectra taken by the Chandra X-ray Observatory provide tests of the underlying dynamo processes by observing the hot X-ray emitting gas that is held by the magnetic field.


Section Photo