Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Supercomputer predicts shape of Sun's corona

The state of the Sun's atmosphere has been predicted with unprecedented accuracy five days in advance, using some of the world's fastest computers. The simulation lays the foundation for better forecasts of hazardous magnetic storms around Earth.

Now, researchers led by Zoran Mikic of the company Science Applications International in San Diego, California, US, have devised a sophisticated computer model based on observations of magnetic activity on the Sun's surface, or photosphere. This activity shapes the Sun's wispy outer atmosphere, or corona, where the eruptions of gas originate.

They improved on simpler versions of their model by including a more accurate simulation of how energy flows through the corona. The new model worked well enough to successfully predict the shape of the entire corona when it became visible in the solar eclipse of 29 March 2006. Normally, the Sun's surface is too bright to directly observe the corona.


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