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Catch a Glimpse of the April 8 Solar Eclipse a Little Early via Supercomputer Sims

Published April 4, 2024

Simulation of the solar corona during an eclipse with colorful streaks emanating from the dark circle of the sun.

Predicted coronal structure on eclipse day (solar north up) as of March 25, 2024 at 8:00UT, from the time-evolving coronal magnetohydrodynamic simulation of the corona. The magnetic field is visualized using a 3D volume rendering of the squashing factor, a measure of structural changes in the magnetic field.  Credit: Predictive Science Inc.

By Neha Srini and Kimberly Mann Bruch, SDSC Communications

The much-anticipated April 8 solar eclipse is quickly approaching and a team of researchers from Predictive Science Inc. has been using the Expanse supercomputer at the San Diego Supercomputer Center (SDSC) at UC San Diego to continuously update simulations of what the eclipse might look like. 

The prediction models are primarily focused on accurately describing the conditions of the solar corona, which is the tenuous outer atmosphere of the sun that becomes visible during a total solar eclipse. Such predictions can help scientists who are planning special observations for the eclipse—observations that are used to better understand the interconnected physics that links the solar surface to the inner heliosphere.

Similar prediction images were available for the Dec. 4, 2021, solar eclipse. This year, however, the team will be running models in near-real time while actively ingesting the latest satellite measurements that drive the model. 

“Our previous coronal predictions corresponded to a boundary condition based on a single photospheric magnetic map, incorporating data that at best was measured 10 to 14 days prior to the eclipse,” said Cooper Downs, who leads the research. “This year, we introduced a new paradigm with a continuously updated prediction based on a time-evolving model.”

Map of the U.S. and Mexico showing the optimal path for viewing the solar eclipse.

The United States will experience a partial solar eclipse on April 8, 2024. The path includes central Mexico as well as portions of Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine and southern Canada. During totality, you may view the sun without proper eye protection, such as solar glasses. But during all other phases of the eclipse, you should only look at the sun when your eyes are protected. Credit: National Solar Observatory

The team is currently posting a prediction that is updated hourly.  The model will continue to be updated until the day of the eclipse – April 8. The idea is that the prediction model will improve in real-time as it gets closer to totality.