Nvidia GPUs track solar changes

  • Lockheed Martin (LM) astrophysicists are using Nvidia-powered GPUs to help track ongoing changes in the Sun.

    Although most of us take the Sun for granted, LM researcher Mark Cheung described Sol as a "living astrophysical object" with a "tumultuous" life of its own. 

    To be sure, the sun's enigmatic flares and filaments - along with the forces that govern its magnetic fields - are currently the focus of a study conducted by NASA's newly formed Solar Dynamics Observatory.

    "The Study of the sun has very real implications for everyday life here on Earth - as solar events can kill satellites and even affect air travel," Cheung explained during a keynote speech at Nvidia's 2010 GPU Technology Conference.

    "[For example], in 1989, 6 million people lost power for a couple weeks when a coronal mass ejection - or solar storm - took out an energy grid, disrupting power across Quebec."

    Cheung noted that Nvidia GPUs were playing a crucial role in accelerating the computationally intensive work required to track the sun, including:

    • Inversion of Stokes profiles to measure the sun's magnetic field.
    • Synthetic images from numerical magnetohydrodynamic simulations.
    • Tracking and mapping plasma flows.

    "GPUs help process the massive amounts of data received at the Lockheed Martin lab - we are talking about roughly 6TB a day.

    "Right now, though, the science is focused on measuring and attempting to understand solar weather. We're not yet at the point of making solar weather predictions, but that definitely remains a future goal," he added.