Solar spoilers! Supercomputers reveal what will happen during today’s total solar eclipse

Today’s the day. Thousands have flocked to the US to witness one of the finest solar eclipses of the century.

From mid-morning Pacific time, the solar eclipse 2017 will move its way across a 70-mile-wide band as the event blankets 14 states.

Sadly, for anyone in the UK, the solar eclipse 2017 will appear only as a partial eclipse, if at all, but NASA is live streaming the event online, and a team of scientists has created a computer simulation to reveal how the event will look.

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Researchers from Predictive Science Inc (PSI) in San Diego began simulating the solar eclipse on 28 July 2017, with support from NASA, the Air Force Office of Scientific Research and the National Science Foundation, by creating a large-scale simulation of the sun’s surface. This was done in preparation for a prediction of what the solar corona – the aura of plasma that surrounds the sun and extends millions of kilometres into space – will look like during the solar eclipse.

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The image on the left shows a digitally processed version of the polarised brightness using a “Wavelet” filter to bring out the details in the image. The image on the right shows traces of selected magnetic field lines from the model

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

The researchers used data collected by the Helioseismic and Magnetic Imager (HMI) aboard NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), as well as a combination of magnetic field maps, solar rotation rates and cutting-edge mathematical models of how magnetohydrodynamics (or the interplay of electrically conducting fluids like plasmas and powerful magnetic field) to study the impact of the corona.

These simulations not only revealed how the solar eclipse would look, but also hinted at a coronal mass ejection – an unusually large release of plasma and magnetic fields from the solar corona – from an active region that will be near the east limb of the sun during the event.

“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 research team completed their initial forecasts on 31 July and will present the results at the Solar Physics Division (SPD) meeting of the American Astronomical Society (AAS) later this week.

Images: Predictive Science Inc (PSI)

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