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NCAR Scientists Help Capture Life Cycle of a Solar Flare

January 20, 2019 GMT

A team of scientists including researchers at Boulder’s National Center for Atmospheric research have, for the first time, used a single cohesive computer model to simulate the entire life cycle of a solar flare.

The dramatic result depicts the buildup of energy from thousands of kilometers below the sun’s surface to the emergence of coiled magnetic field lines through the explosion of energy in a brilliant flash.

Researchers’ achievement could enable future solar models to realistically simulate the sun’s weather as it unfolds in real time, according to a news release, including the appearance of sunspots, which can produce flares and coronal mass ejections capable of disrupting the Earth’s power grids and communication networks, endangering astronauts and harming satellites.


Scientists at NCAR and the Lockheed Martin Solar and Astrophysics Laboratory led the research, which is detailed in the journal Nature Astronomy .

In order to simulate a solar flare from emergence to energy release, scientists had to add detailed equations to a solar model they had created which would allow each region to contribute to the solar flare evolution in a realistic way, the release stated.

Additionally, they had to be sure not to make the model so complex that it would no longer be practical to run it with existing supercomputing resources.

“We have a model that covers a big range of physical conditions, which makes it very challenging,” NCAR scientist Matthias Rempel said in a statement. “This kind of realism requires innovation solutions.”

In an email, Rempel said, “While our current model is a data-inspired stand-alone model, it lays the foundation for future data driven simulations of the ‘solar weather’ and space weather in a way similar to how we can model the weather that we experience here on Earth.”

The groundbreaking simulation captures the formation of a solar flare in a more realistic way than has been done before, and also includes the full spectrum of light emissions that are associated with such events.

“This work allows us to provide an explanation for why flares look the way they do, not just at a single wavelength, but in visible wavelengths, in ultraviolet and extreme ultraviolet wavelengths, and in X-rays,” Mark Cheung, a staff physicist at Lockheed Martin Solar and Astrophysics Laboratory said, according to the release.

“We are explaining the many colors of solar flares.”

Rempel and Cheung are both lead authors on the published study.

Charlie Brennan: 303-473-1327, brennanc@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/chasbrennan