Quiescent Prominence Dynamics Observed with the Hinode Solar Optical Telescope. I. Turbulent Upflow Plumes
Hinode/Solar Optical Telescope (SOT) observations reveal two new dynamic modes in quiescent solar prominences: large-scale (20-50 Mm) "arches" or "bubbles" that "inflate" from below into prominences, and smaller-scale (2-6 Mm) dark turbulent upflows. These novel dynamics are related in that they are always dark in visible-light spectral bands, they rise through the bright prominence emission with approximately constant speeds, and the small-scale upflows are sometimes observed to emanate from the top of the larger bubbles. Here we present detailed kinematic measurements of the small-scale turbulent upflows seen in several prominences in the SOT database. The dark upflows typically initiate vertically from 5 to 10 Mm wide dark cavities between the bottom of the prominence and the top of the chromospheric spicule layer. Small perturbations on the order of 1 Mm or less in size grow on the upper boundaries of cavities to generate plumes up to 4-6 Mm across at their largest widths. All plumes develop highly turbulent profiles, including occasional Kelvin-Helmholtz vortex "roll-up" of the leading edge. The flows typically rise 10-15 Mm before decelerating to equilibrium. We measure the flowfield characteristics with a manual tracing method and with the Nonlinear Affine Velocity Estimator (NAVE) "optical flow" code to derive velocity, acceleration, lifetime, and height data for several representative plumes. Maximum initial speeds are in the range of 20-30 km s-1, which is supersonic for a ~10,000 K plasma. The plumes decelerate in the final few Mm of their trajectories resulting in mean ascent speeds of 13-17 km s-1. Typical lifetimes range from 300 to 1000 s (~5-15 minutes). The area growth rate of the plumes (observed as two-dimensional objects in the plane of the sky) is initially linear and ranges from 20,000 to 30,000 km2 s-1 reaching maximum projected areas from 2 to 15 Mm2. Maximum contrast of the dark flows relative to the bright prominence plasma in SOT images is negative and ranges from -10% for smaller flows to -50% for larger flows. Passive scalar "cork movies" derived from NAVE measurements show that prominence plasma is entrained by the upflows, helping to counter the ubiquitous downflow streams in the prominence. Plume formation shows no clear temporal periodicity. However, it is common to find "active cavities" beneath prominences that can spawn many upflows in succession before going dormant. The mean flow recurrence time in these active locations is roughly 300-500 s (5-8 minutes). Locations remain active on timescales of tens of minutes up to several hours. Using a column density ratio measurement and reasonable assumptions on plume and prominence geometries, we estimate that the mass density in the dark cavities is at most 20% of the visible prominence density, implying that a single large plume could supply up to 1% of the mass of a typical quiescent prominence. We hypothesize that the plumes are generated from a Rayleigh-Taylor instability taking place on the boundary between the buoyant cavities and the overlying prominence. Characteristics, such as plume size and frequency, may be modulated by the strength and direction of the cavity magnetic field relative to the prominence magnetic field. We conclude that buoyant plumes are a source of quiescent prominence mass as well as a mechanism by which prominence plasma is advected upward, countering constant gravitational drainage.