I wrote a Sci-Fi story last year about simulating a “Solar Katrina,” but can supercomputers really forecast magnetic storms? Scott Jones writes that solar storms like the Category 3 (of 5) that Earth weathered recently can take anywhere from 1 to 5 days to reach this planet. If only we had prior warning, preemptive measures could be taken, preventing power and communication disturbances and the large financial investments needed to recover from such outages.
When a storm goes off on the sun, we can’t really predict the extent of damage that it will cause here on Earth. It is critical that we develop this predictive capability,” said Dr. Homa Karimabadi, a space physicist at the University of California–San Diego (UCSD). Karimabadi’s team, in close collaboration with Dr. William Daughton at Los Alamos National Laboratory, is currently using the Oak Ridge Leadership Computing Facility’s (OLCF’s) Cray XT5 Jaguar supercomputer, one of the most powerful in the world with a peak performance of 2.33 petaflops, to better understand the processes giving rise to space weather. Specifically, Karimabadi has used about 30 million hours on the Department of Energy’s premier high-performance computing system to study how plasma spewed from the sun interacts with Earth’s magnetosphere, investigating exactly what happens when the two meet and precisely what gets through and why.
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