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Now showing: “Solar Superstorms,” narrated by Benedict Cumberbatch

"Solar Superstorms," is a science documentary showing off the latest computation-enabled research about solar dynamics. Narrated by Benedict Cumberbatch, the 24-minute documentary illustrates what can happen when our closest star erupts. Stunning visualizations from Donna Cox's team at the US National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) Advanced Visualization Laboratory tell the story.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) helped fund the Centrality of Advanced Digitally Enabled Science (CADENS) project to show off the gains supercomputing and data analysis offer to science and the world. "The 'Solar Superstorms' dome show is a direct result of scientific research dependent on extremely powerful computer simulations and visualizations," says Rudolf Eigenmann, a program director at the NSF.

Too complex for a single computer, producing the simulations required supercomputers from across the US:

· The NCSA's Blue Waters supercomputer simulated the early universe to show how the first generations of stars formed.

· Pleiades at Michigan State University illustrated the magnetized convection deep in the body of the sun and the gas encircling the outer two percent of the solar mass.

· The Kraken system at the National Institute for Computational Sciences visualized the convection cells across the face of the sun - each as large as a continent.

· The Yellowstone supercomputer at the National Center for Atmospheric Research and the Discover supercomputer at NASA's Center for Climate Simulation (NCCS) simulated the solar corona.

"The resulting representations of the high-resolution, complex numeric simulations convey the beauty, the power, and the human relevance of solar storms," says Eigenmann.

The spectacle's North American debut was in Baton Rouge, Louisiana (US) on 30 June. The European premier was at the Planétarium Gallilée at Montpellier Méditerranée Métropole in France on 4 July. It will now feature at a dozen science museums around the world, including Planetarium Hamburg (Germany), the State Museum of Pennsylvania (Harrisburg), Tellus Science Museum (Cartersville, Georgia), and the Eugenides Planetarium (Athens).

And did we mention Benedict Cumberbatch narrates it?

NCSA simulation of solar plasma interacting with the Earth's magnetic field. Numerical simulation by Blue Waters users Homa Karimabadi, Mahidhar Tatineni, and Vadim Roytershteyn, University of California, San Diego. Their data was visualized by the team at the NCSA Advanced Visualization Laboratory. Narrated by Benedict Cumberbatch. Video courtesy NCSA.

--Lance Farrell

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