Context. The formation of magnetic flux concentrations within the solar convection zone leading to sunspot formation is unexplained. Aims. We study the self-organization of initially uniform sub-equipartition magnetic fields by highly stratified turbulent convection. Methods. We perform simulations of magnetoconvection in Cartesian domains representing the uppermost 8.5-24 Mm of the solar convection zone with the horizontal size of the domain varying between 34 and 96 Mm. The density contrast in the 24 Mm deep models is more than 3 × 103 or eight density scale heights, corresponding to a little over 12 pressure scale heights. We impose either a vertical or a horizontal uniform magnetic field in a convection-driven turbulent flow in set-ups where no small-scale dynamos are present. In the most highly stratified cases we employ the reduced sound speed method to relax the time step constraint arising from the high sound speed in the deep layers. We model radiation via the diffusion approximation and neglect detailed radiative transfer in order to concentrate on purely magnetohydrodynamic effects. Results. We find that super-equipartition magnetic flux concentrations are formed near the surface in cases with moderate and high density stratification, corresponding to domain depths of 12.5 and 24 Mm. The size of the concentrations increases as the box size increases and the largest structures (20 Mm horizontally near the surface) are obtained in the models that are 24 Mm deep. The field strength in the concentrations is in the range of 3-5 kG, almost independent of the magnitude of the imposed field. The amplitude of the concentrations grows approximately linearly in time. The effective magnetic pressure measured in the simulations is positive near the surface and negative in the bulk of the convection zone. Its derivative with respect to the mean magnetic field, however, is positive in most of the domain, which is unfavourable for the operation of the negative effective magnetic pressure instability (NEMPI). Simulations in which a passive vector field is evolved do not show a noticeable difference from magnetohydrodynamic runs in terms of the growth of the structures. Furthermore, we find that magnetic flux is concentrated in regions of converging flow corresponding to large-scale supergranulation convection pattern. Conclusions. The linear growth of large-scale flux concentrations implies that their dominant formation process is a tangling of the large-scale field rather than an instability. One plausible mechanism that can explain both the linear growth and the concentration of the flux in the regions of converging flow pattern is flux expulsion. A possible reason for the absence of NEMPI is that the derivative of the effective magnetic pressure with respect to the mean magnetic field has an unfavourable sign. Furthermore, there may not be sufficient scale separation, which is required for NEMPI to work.
|Journal||Astronomy and Astrophysics|
|Publication status||Published - 1 Apr 2016|
|MoE publication type||A1 Journal article-refereed|