7 June 2021

PhD researcher publishes first paper

Samuel Skirvin's first paper investigates the properties and behaviour waves which are frequently observed in the Sun’s atmosphere and may be a catalyst for eruptive events and subsequent energy transfer.

Samuel Skirvin

Samuel's paper The effect of symmetric and spatially varying equilibria and flow on MHD wave modes: slab geometry is published in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. 

Why is this paper important?

The Sun plays a pivotal role in everybody’s everyday life, even if they don’t realise it. For many people it just separates day from night, but every ecosystem on the planet and the mechanics of our solar system as a whole relies heavily on it. Being such a massive body - the Sun also poses many risks to our life on Earth. Eruptive events occurring in the Sun’s atmosphere can launch dangerous material towards Earth, which can interfere with communication and electrical systems, as well as exposing pilots and astronauts to increased amounts of radiation. 

An interesting conundrum for researchers which is less known to the general public is an outstanding unsolved mystery known as the ‘coronal heating problem’. The corona is the outer layer of the Sun’s atmosphere, and the material there is over one million degrees Celsius. However, the layer of the Sun’s surface which we can see through a telescope (which is much closer to the core of the star where heat is produced) is only a mere 5000 degrees Celsius. This is unusual and is like sitting further away from a campfire and finding yourself getting warmer.

Despite this, very little is actually known about the physics driving the mechanisms behind features we see on the Sun. Modelling the physics of the systems we observe is vitally important to providing a better understanding of the coronal heating problem and aid in predicting such potentially dangerous events. The research presented in my first PhD published paper investigates the properties and behaviour waves which are frequently observed in the Sun’s atmosphere and may be a catalyst for eruptive events and subsequent energy transfer.

How did you do the research? 

This research was funded by the Science Technologies and Facilities Council (STFC) and conducted under the supervision of Dr Viktor Fedun (ACSE) and Dr Gary Verth (SoMaS). Throughout my PhD I have been developing a numerical code to find waves which are allowed to exist in specific structures that can be observed in the solar atmosphere. This code was developed on Python and written from scratch utilising previously known properties of the waves observed to investigate how their properties are changed under different conditions. The numeral code is also capable of producing a visual representation of how quantities which are easily observable (such as temperature and density) are perturbed as a result of the waves propagating. 

What is the potential impact of the study? 

Our research has suggested that the waves observed in the solar atmosphere are greatly affected by the medium that they travel through. If the medium is non-uniform in space (this means not the same everywhere) then we have found that the waves feel this, and as a result the quantities which are easily observable appear different to what uniform theory tells us - which may be misinterpreted by observers.The numerical investigation can provide observational researchers with a better understanding of not only what waves they are looking at, but also the nature of the structure they are moving through. Through a combination of high resolution observations and a realistic model with the numerical approach I have presented, a much more accurate analysis of the waves present in the solar atmosphere can be conducted.

Tell us more about yourself. 

I’m from Macclesfield in the United Kingdom and have always had a passion for space. Astrophysics was always my favourite subject in school and consequently I went to Northumbria University in Newcastle Upon-Tyne to undertake a degree and masters degree in Physics with Astrophysics. The group at Northumbria is heavily focused on solar physics and has a close relationship with the University of Sheffield. After completing my masters I got onto a PhD program in Space Plasma Physics at the University of Sheffield with the PDG group and have loved every minute of it. I especially enjoy the opportunities to travel and collaborate at workshops and conferences (pre-Covid). This has given me the opportunity to go to places I never would have dreamed of. Outside of my PhD I enjoy many sports such as football, badminton and running. I find these a really good relaxing way to unwind from the stressful days of being a PhD student.

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