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December 7, 2017

Computer simulations preview solar eclipse (Image 2)

This still is from a special visualization of the 3-D magnetic field. By tracing magnetic field lines at extremely high resolution, researchers can calculate a 3-D map of the so-called magnetic squashing factor, a scientific measure designed to indicate the presence of complex structuring in the magnetic field. Researchers then integrate the map along the line-of-sight, with special weightings to create a composite that resembles solar eclipse images. This is intended to highlight the inherent complexity of the sun's magnetic field and its intimate connection to visible emission from the solar corona. [Image 2 of 3 related images. See Image 3.]

More about this image
The Aug. 21, 2017, total eclipse of the sun offered researchers the opportunity to gain a better understand of the sun including further information about its structure -- its inner workings and the space weather it generates.

In advance of the event, on July 28, 2017, a research team from San Diego-based Predictive Science Inc. (PSI) began a large-scale simulation of the sun's surface in preparation for a prediction of what the solar corona -- the aura of plasma that surrounds the sun and extends millions of kilometers into space -- would look like during the eclipse. The project was supported in part by the National Science Foundation.

"The solar eclipse allows us to see levels of the solar corona not possible even with the most powerful telescopes and spacecraft," said Niall Gaffney, a former Hubble scientist and director of Data Intensive Computing at the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC). "It also gives high-performance computing researchers who model high energy plasmas the unique ability to test our understanding of magnetohydrodynamics at a scale and environment not possible anywhere else."

The team used massive supercomputers including Stampede2 at TACC, Comet at the San Diego Supercomputer Center (SDSC), and NASA's Pleiades supercomputer to complete a series highly-detailed solar simulations timed to the moment of the eclipse.

"Advanced computational resources are crucial to developing detailed physical models of the solar corona and solar wind," says Jon Linker, president and senior research scientist of PSI. "The growth in the power of these resources in recent years has fueled an increase in not only the resolution of these models, but the sophistication of the way the models treat the underlying physical processes as well."

To learn more about this research, see the TACC news story Spoiler alert: Computer simulations provide preview of solar eclipse. (Date image taken: August 2017; date originally posted to NSF Multimedia Gallery: Dec. 8, 2017)

Credit: Predictive Science Inc.

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