110. Flare/CME Cartoons

Author: Hugh Hudson, Nicolina Chrysaphi, and Norman Gray at the University of Glasgow.

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A “Grand Archive of Solar Flare Cartoons” has long existed on the Web [1], but without updates within the past decade because of the unfortunate loss of a password, and because the original quite primitive HTML made it hard to access new items. Now, announced here for the first time, a brand-new Archive [2] at last replaces it! The new version contains almost 400 entries (see Figure 1 for some examples), each with a new or good-as-new refurbished descriptive blurb, usually containing links that let the user hop around seeking that exactly perfect concept (which almost never exists, alas). The blurb links to the original source.

Figure 1. Part of the thumbnails view of the new Archive. Obvious and historical items captured in this arbitrary segment include interchange reconnection, circuit theory, the ballerina's skirt, and a vintage 1964 bottle.

Note that some mission creep has occurred: originally inspired only by the venerable and too-often-cited CSHKP model, the Archive has gone far beyond that in an effort to capture lateral thinking and more physically relevant items. Note please that we capitalize Archive in an effort to clothe our pretty lightweight subject with some gravitas. We would not describe these toons as funny ha-ha, at least not by intent.

Often the inspiration for an important bit of science appears first as a sketch on a bit of crumpled paper, perhaps in a bar somewhere like the Eagle Pub in Cambridge (UK). We think that a good cartoon represents a sort of intuitive interpolation formula, in that it captures some crucial new aspect of the science and allows extrapolations of that idea into some useful further direction or other. Note that many of the cartoons in the Archive do not actually do that very well. These often suggest the possibility (probability?) of obsolescence as a matter of course. In fact, one could argue that perpetuating even the most brilliant cartoon may actually serve to stifle innovation and lead to a stale cartoon-chasing style of research.

Of what use is such an Archive?

Does the Archive really serve any useful purpose, or does it merely ossify outdated concepts of little generality? Both, we think. We offer this Archive mainly as an educational matter for the benefit of the Archivist really, but many eager users of the old Archive [1] have (if faintly) praised it. The typical comment notes last-minute deadline pressure for writing a presentation or a proposal. The Archivist has in fact sometimes sat glumly through seminar presentations that seemed to consist mainly of cartoons, and has no statistical basis for judging the success rate for any of the proposal efforts.

Access to the Archive

Figure 2. An entry in the Archive from Chrysaphi et al. 2018.

A recent example (shown in Figure 2) shows how a cartoon can neatly suggest a specific physical mechanism within a global structure. This one also pops up in the segment of the thumbnails view of the Archive shown in Figure 1, clickable in its direct form though not here. In addition to this thumbnails view, the Archive also offers various list options; the chronological list view starts in 1905. The Archive embraces half a dozen varieties of cartoon, but tries to avoid snapshots of numerical simulations wherever possible. Though, of course, a good simulation really just fleshes out somebody’s idea of the important physics.


The Archive continues to grow gradually as further brilliant ideas appear (or sometimes, just as the graphics get better). A successful new entry must satisfy at least one basic requirement: it needs to have appeared in a regular journal with a better-than-average impact factor. If you have a really new and interesting cartoon in such a state that does not currently appear on the Archive, please email the Archive Accessions Department directly. Note again that the Archive does not presently include intentionally funny items.