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Texas Scientists Create Computer Simulations Previewing Total Solar Eclipse

Tony Cantu

Did you skip the upcoming solar eclipse viewing parties on Aug. 21? Was your search for specially filtered glasses or welder’s masks futile? Do you plan on staying indoors that day to avoid the gawking masses staring heavenward and/or the potential mayhem from the freaked-out masses unaware the moon’s shadow is scheduled to obscure the sun come Aug. 21?

A research team from Predictive Science Inc. (PSI) used the Stampede2 supercomputer at The University of Texas at Austin’s Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC) to forecast the corona of the sun during the upcoming eclipse, university officials said on Thursday. The findings shed light on what the eclipse of the sun might look like Aug. 21 when it will be visible across much of the U.S., tracing a 70-mile-wide band across 14 states, researchers added with palpable excitement.

By tracing magnetic field lines at extremely high resolution, researchers highlight the inherent complexity of the Sun’s magnetic field and its intimate connection to visible emission from the solar corona.

For the rest of us, these images help to broaden our understanding of the universe. Beyond their rarity, solar eclipses help astronomers better understand the sun’s structure, inner workings and the space weather it generates, university officials noted.

To achieve the simulation, researchers completed a series of highly detailed solar simulations timed to the moment of the eclipse using TACC’s Stampede2, Comet at the San Diego Supercomputer Center, and NASA’s Pleiades supercomputer. They modeled the sun’s surface and predicted what the solar corona — the aura of plasma that surrounds the sun and extends millions of kilometers into space — will look like during this eclipse.

“Advanced computational resources are crucial to developing detailed physical models of the solar corona and solar wind,” said 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.”

The researchers’ computer simulations were converted into scientific visualizations that approximate what the human eye might see during the solar eclipse, university officials explained. The simulations are among the largest the research group has performed, using 65 million grid points to provide great accuracy and realism, according to school officials.

A collection of the images can be found here and here.

University officials said the team used data collected by the Helioseismic and Magnetic Imager aboard NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory and a combination of magnetic field maps, solar rotation rates and mathematical models of how magnetohydrodynamics (the interplay of electrically conducting fluids such as plasmas and magnetic fields) affect the corona.

Predictions about the appearance of the corona during an eclipse test complex three-dimensional computational models of the sun against visible reality, officials added. In doing so, the accuracy of predicting space weather improves, a tactic that could have important practical ramifications.

This is an excerpt from an article on Patch.com. To view the full article, click here.