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using computers to study the Sun


The computers we use nowadays are very fast and powerful. We use them to communicate with satellites in space, to plan observations, to store the data collected and to analyse those data. We also use computers to perform very complex calculations so we can compare our theoretical models with the observations.


How have computer models helped us to solve some of the mysteries about the Sun? Here are some examples.


We are now able to simulate (make a numerical model of) the magnetic field on the Sun, both for the whole Sun and for small features. We can see how the magnetic field changes and what effect this has.


From these results we now realise just how important the Sun's magnetic field is. It controls the motion of the solar plasma and when it changes suddenly, magnetic energy can be transferred into thermal energy (heat) and kinetic energy (motion). We are still working on the details to understand how exactly these effects happen.

The Sun's Magnetic Field:



One of the Sun's great mysteries is why the corona is so hot. The surface of the Sun, its photosphere, has a temperature of about 6000 degrees, but the corona is more than one million degrees.

There are lots of different calculations and simulations being carried out to try and solve this problem. Some theories use waves to heat the corona, other calculations are based on changes in the magnetic field, which cause a myriad of small flares. None of these models explains all of the observations, so it might be that we need to use a combination of different models.


The Hot Corona:



We now understand better what is happening beneath the surface of the Sun. We can simulate the convection taking place and how that affects the solar atmosphere, for example in and around sunspots.



You can see more movies in our Gallery   [Movie file 1mb or more - High quality]

Solar convection:



The Sun's structure is very complicated and the closer we look, the more detail we see! We are confident we are beginning to understand the Sun, but we still have a lot of work to do.




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