Average motion of emerging solar active region polarities: II. Joy's law

H. Schunker, C. Baumgartner, A. C. Birch, R. H. Cameron, D. C. Braun, L. Gizon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Context. The tilt of solar active regions described by Joy's law is essential for converting a toroidal field to a poloidal field in Babcock-Leighton dynamo models. In thin flux tube models the Coriolis force causes what we observe as Joy's law, acting on east-west flows as they rise towards the surface. Aims. Our goal is to measure the evolution of the average tilt angle of hundreds of active regions as they emerge, so that we can constrain the origins of Joy's law. Methods. We measured the tilt angle of the primary bipoles in 153 emerging active regions (EARs) in the Solar Dynamics Observatory Helioseismic Emerging Active Region survey. We used line-of-sight magnetic field measurements averaged over 6 h to define the polarities and measure the tilt angle up to four days after emergence. Results. We find that at the time of emergence the polarities are on average aligned east-west, and that neither the separation nor the tilt depends on latitude. We do find, however, that EARs at higher latitudes have a faster north-south separation speed than those closer to the equator at the emergence time. After emergence, the tilt angle increases and Joy's law is evident about two days later. The scatter in the tilt angle is independent of flux until about one day after emergence, when we find that higher-flux regions have a smaller scatter in tilt angle than lower-flux regions. Conclusions. Our finding that active regions emerge with an east-west alignment is consistent with earlier observations, but is still surprising since thin flux tube models predict that tilt angles of rising flux tubes are generated below the surface. Previously reported tilt angle relaxation of deeply anchored flux tubes can be largely explained by the change in east-west separation. We conclude that Joy's law is caused by an inherent north-south separation speed present when the flux first reaches the surface, and that the scatter in the tilt angle is consistent with buffeting of the polarities by supergranulation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberA116
JournalAstronomy and Astrophysics
StatePublished - Aug 1 2020


  • Sun: activity
  • Sun: magnetic fields

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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