Virtual model of sunspots may unlock Sun’s mysteries

June 19th, 2009 - 12:13 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, June 19 (ANI): Scientists have created the first-ever comprehensive computer model of sunspots, a breakthrough that will help scientists unlock mysteries of the sun and its impacts on Earth.

Sunspots are associated with massive ejections of charged plasma that can cause geomagnetic storms and disrupt communications and navigational systems.

They are also linked to variations in solar output that can affect weather on Earth and exert a subtle influence on climate patterns.

“Understanding complexities in the solar magnetic field is key to ’space weather’ forecasting,” said Richard Behnke of NSF’s (National Science Foundation’s) Division of Atmospheric Sciences.

“If we can model sunspots, we may be able to predict them and be better prepared for the potential serious consequences here on Earth of these violent storms on the sun,” he added.

Scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, Colo., collaborated with colleagues at the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research (MPS) in Germany, building on a computer code that had been created at the University of Chicago.

“If you want to understand all the drivers of Earth’s atmospheric system, you have to understand how sunspots emerge and evolve. Our simulations will advance research into the inner workings of the sun as well as connections between solar output and Earth’s atmosphere,” said lead paper author Matthias Rempel.

Sunspots accompany 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 new computer models capture pairs of sunspots with opposite polarity.

In striking detail, they reveal the dark central region, or umbra, with brighter umbral dots, as well as webs of elongated narrow filaments with flows of mass streaming away from the spots in the outer penumbral regions.

They also capture the convective flow and movement of energy that underlie the sunspots, and which are not directly detectable by instruments.

The models suggest that the magnetic fields within sunspots need to be inclined in certain directions in order to create such complex structures.

The researchers conclude that there is a unified physical explanation for the structure of sunspots in umbra and penumbra that’s the consequence of convection in a magnetic field with varying properties.

The simulations can help scientists decipher the mysterious, subsurface forces in the sun that cause sunspots.

Such work may lead to an improved understanding of variations in solar output and their impacts on Earth. (ANI)

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