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We study the flux emergence process in NOAA active region 11024, between 29 June and 7 July 2009, by means of multi-wavelength observations and nonlinear force-free extrapolation. The main aim is to extend previous investigations by combining, as much as possible, high spatial resolution observations to test our present understanding of small-scale (undulatory) flux emergence, whilst putting these small-scale events in the context of the global evolution of the active region. The combination of these techniques allows us to follow the whole process, from the first appearance of the bipolar axial field on the east limb, until the buoyancy instability could set in and raise the main body of the twisted flux tube through the photosphere, forming magnetic tongues and signatures of serpentine field, until the simplification of the magnetic structure into a main bipole by the time the active region reaches the west limb. At the crucial time of the main emergence phase high spatial resolution spectropolarimetric measurements of the photospheric field are employed to reconstruct the three-dimensional structure of the nonlinear force-free coronal field, which is then used to test the current understanding of flux emergence processes. In particular, knowledge of the coronal connectivity confirms the identity of the magnetic tongues as seen in their photospheric signatures, and it exemplifies how the twisted flux, which is emerging on small scales in the form of a sea-serpent, is subsequently rearranged by reconnection into the large-scale field of the active region. In this way, the multi-wavelength observations combined with a nonlinear force-free extrapolation provide a coherent picture of the emergence process of small-scale magnetic bipoles, which subsequently reconnect to form a large-scale structure in the corona.

The helical kink instability of a twisted magnetic flux tube has been suggested as a trigger mechanism for solar filament eruptions and coronal mass ejections (CMEs). In order to investigate if estimations of the pre-emptive twist can be obtained from observations of writhe in such events, we quantitatively analyze the conversion of twist into writhe in the course of the instability, using numerical simulations. We consider the line tied, cylindrically symmetric Gold-Hoyle flux rope model and measure the writhe using the formulae by Berger and Prior which express the quantity as a single integral in space. We find that the amount of twist converted into writhe does not simply scale with the initial flux rope twist, but depends mainly on the growth rates of the instability eigenmodes of higher longitudinal order than the basic mode. The saturation levels of the writhe, as well as the shapes of the kinked flux ropes, are very similar for considerable ranges of initial flux rope twists, which essentially precludes estimations of pre-eruptive twist from measurements of writhe. However, our simulations suggest an upper twist limit of similar to 6 pi for the majority of filaments prior to their eruption.

Relative magnetic helicity, as a conserved quantity of ideal magnetohydrodynamics, has been highlighted as an important quantity to study in plasma physics. Due to its nonlocal nature, its estimation is not straightforward in both observational and numerical data. In this study we derive expressions for the practical computation of the gauge-independent relative magnetic helicity in three-dimensional finite domains. The derived expressions are easy to implement and rapid to compute. They are derived in Cartesian coordinates, but can be easily written in other coordinate systems. We apply our method to a numerical model of a force-free equilibrium containing a flux rope, and compare the results with those obtained employing known half-space equations. We find that our method requires a much smaller volume than half-space expressions to derive the full helicity content. We also prove that values of relative magnetic helicity of different magnetic fields can be compared with each other in the same sense as free-energy values can. Therefore, relative magnetic helicity can be meaningfully and directly compared between different datasets, such as those from different active regions, but also within the same dataset at different times. Typical applications of our formulae include the helicity computation in three-dimensional models of the solar atmosphere, e.g., coronal-field reconstructions by force-free extrapolation and discretized magnetic fields of numerical simulations.

Coronal mass ejections (CMEs) erupt and expand in a magnetically structured solar corona. Various indirect observational pieces of evidence have shown that the magnetic field of CMEs reconnects with surrounding magnetic fields, forming, e.g., dimming regions distant from the CME source regions. Analyzing Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) observations of the eruption from AR 11226 on 2011 June 7, we present the first direct evidence of coronal magnetic reconnection between the fields of two adjacent active regions during a CME. The observations are presented jointly with a data-constrained numerical simulation, demonstrating the formation/intensification of current sheets along a hyperbolic flux tube at the interface between the CME and the neighboring AR 11227. Reconnection resulted in the formation of new magnetic connections between the erupting magnetic structure from AR 11226 and the neighboring active region AR 11227 about 200 Mm from the eruption site. The onset of reconnection first becomes apparent in the SDO/AIA images when filament plasma, originally contained within the erupting flux rope, is redirected toward remote areas in AR 11227, tracing the change of large-scale magnetic connectivity. The location of the coronal reconnection region becomes bright and directly observable at SDO/AIA wavelengths, owing to the presence of down-flowing cool, dense (1010 cm(-3)) filament plasma in its vicinity. The high-density plasma around the reconnection region is heated to coronal temperatures, presumably by slow-mode shocks and Coulomb collisions. These results provide the first direct observational evidence that CMEs reconnect with surrounding magnetic structures, leading to a large-scale reconfiguration of the coronal magnetic field.

There is a recurring question in solar physics regarding whether or not electric currents are neutralized in active regions (ARs). This question was recently revisited using three-dimensional (3D) magnetohydrodynamic (MHD) numerical simulations of magnetic flux emergence into the solar atmosphere. Such simulations showed that flux emergence can generate a substantial net current in ARs. Other sources of AR currents are photospheric horizontal flows. Our aim is to determine the conditions for the occurrence of net versus neutralized currents with this second mechanism. Using 3D MHD simulations, we systematically impose line-tied, quasi-static, photospheric twisting and shearing motions to a bipolar potential magnetic field. We find that such flows: (1) produce both direct and return currents, (2) induce very weak compression currents-not observed in 2.5D-in the ambient field present in the close vicinity of the current-carrying field, and (3) can generate force-free magnetic fields with a net current. We demonstrate that neutralized currents are in general produced only in the absence of magnetic shear at the photospheric polarity inversion line-a special condition that is rarely observed. We conclude that. photospheric flows,. as magnetic flux emergence, can build up net currents in the solar atmosphere, in agreement with recent observations. These results thus provide support for eruption models based on pre-eruption magnetic fields that possess a net coronal current.