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2024 Total Solar Eclipse: Prediction vs. Reality

Prediction , A black disk appears in the middle of the image with long, spiky white rays radiating out from the circle.
Actual , A black disk appears in the middle of the photo with white rays radiating out from the circle, gently fading into the black background.

2024 Total Solar Eclipse

Corona Prediction and Actual Composite Image

Before a total solar eclipse crossed North America on April 8, 2024, scientists at Predictive Science Inc. of San Diego aimed to foresee what the Sun’s outer atmosphere, the corona, would look like during totality.

The predictions help researchers understand the accuracy of their models of the Sun’s corona, which extends along its magnetic field. A solar eclipse offers a rare opportunity to view the entire corona from Earth, guiding research into how its energy can cause solar flares and coronal mass ejections, which can disrupt technology on Earth and in space.

The researchers used the Aitken, Electra, and Pleiades supercomputers at the NASA Advanced Supercomputing facility, located at the agency’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley. With near-real-time data from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory and ESA’s (the European Space Agency) and NASA's Solar Orbiter, they created a dynamic model of the corona. The team’s model accurately predicted several details, including long streamers in the upper and lower left side of the image, but the streamers’ locations are slightly misaligned when compared with real images. This is likely because some new activity on the far side of the Sun, which affected the appearance of the corona, wasn’t yet seen and couldn’t be incorporated in the model. Once it was, the model more closely matched observational photos of the corona.

Recognizing that the corona is inherently complex and difficult to predict during solar maximum, Cooper Downs, a research scientist at Predictive Science, said, “We’re really thrilled with this simulation. It really has a lot of scientific consequences that I think we’ll be exploring for a long time.”

By Rachel Lense, NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md;
with Tara Friesen, NASA's Ames Research Center, Silicon Valley, Calif.