Analysing 20 years of data on the atmosphere of the sun

Analysing 20 years of data on the atmosphere of the sun

The solar system physics team at Aberystwyth University uses Supercomputing Wales to study the sun’s atmosphere, analysing data collected over the past two decades by a range of satellites and ground-based telescopes.

The sun’s atmosphere is still “quite mysterious, with a lot we don’t understand,” says Dr Huw Morgan.

“What Supercomputing Wales allows us to do is to analyse long periods of data, up to 20 years’ worth of data, in quite a short period. We have around 15 terabytes of data stored on Supercomputing Wales and that data can be analysed in several ways, so there are different processing streams depending on what we are trying to study,” Morgan says.

One current field of study is the shape of the solar atmosphere.

“We have two dimensional images, but we don’t know the three-dimensional shape. So one of the most advanced methods we’ve developed is to use tomography, similar to medical tomography in that you take images from many different angles and work out the three dimensional shape of what you’re looking at. That involves taking thousands of images over the course of a month, as the sun rotates,” Morgan says.

The work Morgan’s team runs on Supercomputing Wales differs from the heavily parallelised code run by many other physics departments, he says.

“Someone doing quantum physics really needs the parallel processing power of Supercomputing Wales. We do run jobs in parallel, but running one year of data in one job, another in a second and so on – so we can process 20 years of data in one 20th of the time. It’s totally invaluable to our work – we wouldn’t be doing the research we’re doing without Supercomputing Wales,” says Morgan.

The solar system physics team works closely with Supercomputing Wales support staff. Colin Sauze, a Research Software Engineer for the facility is based in the office upstairs from Morgan and regularly helps the team out with problems, or runs workshops on specific issues.

Access to the facility has never been an issue, with computing time usually available within “seconds, or minutes,” Morgan says.