NCAR's bluefire supercomputer paints most realistic sunspot picture to date

By Staff
06/18/2009 - 12:00am

The newest addition to NCAR's supercomputer lineup, known as bluefire, has played a starring role in generating the most comprehensive numerical model of sunspots ever created. The captivating computer simulation will help scientists better understand the detailed structure of sunspots and the physical processes underlying their formation, evolution and decay. This simulation also lays the foundation for a deeper understanding of the physical processes involved in the connections between varying solar activity and Earth's atmosphere.

Sunspots encompass intense magnetic activity that is associated with solar flares and massive ejections of plasma that can buffet Earth's atmosphere. The resulting damage to power grids, satellites, and other sensitive technological systems takes an economic toll on a rising number of industries.

The simulation required vast amounts of processing power –bluefire performs 76 trillion calculations per second, but even at that speed it took about a month to finish the computation.

Creating such detailed simulations would not have been possible even as recently as a few years ago, before the latest generation of supercomputers and a growing array of instruments to observe the Sun. Partly because of such new technology, scientists have made advances in solving the equations that describe the physics of solar processes.

The results of the research, led by NCAR scientists and part of an international collaboration, will be published this week in Science Express.