Aims: We investigate the properties of orphan penumbrae, which are photospheric filamentary structures observed in active regions near polarity inversion lines that resemble the penumbra of regular sunspots but are not connected to any umbra.
Methods: We use Hinode data from the Solar Optical Telescope to determine the properties of orphan penumbrae. Spectropolarimetric data are employed to obtain the vector magnetic field and line-of-sight velocities in the photosphere. Magnetograms are used to study the overall evolution of these structures, and G-band and Ca ii H filtergrams are to investigate their brightness and apparent horizontal motions.
Results: Orphan penumbrae form between regions of opposite polarity in places with horizontal magnetic fields. Their magnetic configuration is that of Ω-shaped flux ropes. In the two cases studied here, the opposite-polarity regions approach each other with time and the whole structure submerges as the penumbral filaments disappear. Orphan penumbrae are very similar to regular penumbrae, including the existence of strong gas flows. Therefore, they could have a similar origin. The main difference between them is the absence of a "background" magnetic field in orphan penumbrae. This could explain most of the observed differences.
Conclusions: The fast flows we detect in orphan penumbrae may be caused by the siphon flow mechanism. Based on the similarities between orphan and regular penumbrae, we propose that the Evershed flow is also a manifestation of siphon flows.