Behold the first complete simulation of a sunspot, the product of a new 76-teraflop supercomputer that’s allowed scientists to model the sun’s magnetic processes in unprecedented detail.
The beautiful virtual sunspot (see video below) was built using new observations about the structure of the sun. It represents an area 31,000 miles by 62,000 miles to a depth of 3,700 miles. Scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research used a wealth of equations that describe the interactions of particles in the environment to calculate the dynamics of the sunspot at 1.8 billion individual points.
“Advances in supercomputing power are enabling us to close in on some of the most fundamental processes of the sun,” said Michael Knoelker, director of NCAR’s High Altitude Observatory and co-author of a paper on the work appearing in Science Thursday. “With this breakthrough simulation, an overall comprehensive physical picture is emerging for everything that observers have associated with the appearance, formation, dynamics and the decay of sunspots on the sun’s surface.”
Sunspots, which wax and wane in roughly 11-year cycles, eject massive amounts of plasma into the solar system, sometimes causing disruptions of terrestrial communications and power grid infrastructure. We’ve been studying them for a 100 years, but it’s only recently that keener observations and expanded computing power have enabled us to begin to really understand them.
Still, there is a lot left to learn. Over the last year, scientists have been trying to explain the abnormally low number of sunspots. The normal cycle appeared to have been disrupted, which would have required a major rethink of the sun’s internal dynamics.
… With the new supercomputer sunspot model, solar researchers could gain a deeper understanding of these powerful, mysterious and important phenomena. That’s good news because as sunspot activity kicks back up towards its maximum, experts warn the Earth’s electrical and communications networks could be in very serious trouble.
See the 4 second video here.