£1.2m research grant awarded to further understanding of the Sun

A team of scientists from Northumbria University have been awarded a research grant to advance human understanding of the Sun and its impact on the planets that orbit it.

Led by Dr Richard Morton, a team of scientists have been given a research grant of £1.2m to facilitate a four year study exploring some of the phenomena associated with the Sun. The research aims to further the understanding of powerful solar winds and the giant, planet-sized concentrations of magnetic fields known as sunspots.

The project, Revealing the Pattern of Solar Alfvénic Waves (RiPSAW), received the research grant from UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) after Dr Morton was awarded a prestigious 2020 UKRI Future Leader Fellowship.

Using mathematics and computer simulations

Morton’s research will utilise advanced mathematical techniques and cutting-edge computer simulations to create models of the Sun, providing new insight into the physics behind its activity.

The main goal of the RiPSAW project is to examine the role of magnetic waves in the heating the Sun’s atmosphere to a million degrees and generating powerful solar winds.

Morton explains: “Many stars possess their own weather systems, although these systems are extreme compared to those we experience on Earth. In our solar system, a hot, million-degree wind blows off the Sun at colossal speeds reaching millions of miles per hour, washing over the planets.

“The Earth’s magnetic field protects us by deflecting this wind, but other planetary bodies in the solar system have been exposed to its influence – for example, the Sun’s wind is known to have stripped Mars of its atmosphere.”

The RiPSAW project will use new methods drawn from statistics and machine learning to analyse high quality data of the Sun from state-of-the-art solar instruments, such as NASA’s Solar Dynamic Observatory.

Behind the research

Morton is among 90 academics to receive the 2020 UKRI Future Leader Fellowship research grant. The scheme aims to fund the research of talented individuals in order to progress innovation in the UK.

The fellowships are open to researchers from business, universities, and other organisations. Investment of up to £1.5m over four years is available to enable researchers to benefit from outstanding support to develop their careers, and to work on difficult and novel challenges.

Sir Mark Walport, Chief Executive of UK Research and Innovation, said: “The Future Leaders Fellowships are UKRI’s flagship talent programme, designed to foster and nurture the research and innovation leaders of the future. We are delighted to support these outstanding researchers and innovators across universities, research organisations and businesses.”

Dr Morton added: “I feel very grateful to have been awarded such a fantastic fellowship. It will make a huge difference to my career and provides a fantastic opportunity for me to build and develop my own research group. I can’t wait to get started.”

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