The Sun’s supergranulation refers to a physical pattern covering the surface of the quiet Sun with a typical horizontal scale of approximately 30,000 km and a lifetime of around 1.8 d. Its most noticeable observable signature is as a fluctuating velocity field of 360 m s–1 rms whose components are mostly horizontal. Supergranulation was discovered more than fifty years ago, however explaining why and how it originates still represents one of the main challenges of modern solar physics.
A lot of work has been devoted to the subject over the years, but observational constraints, conceptual difficulties and numerical limitations have all concurred to prevent a detailed understanding of the supergranulation phenomenon so far. With the advent of 21st century supercomputing resources and the availability of unprecedented high-resolution observations of the Sun, a stage at which key progress can be made has now been reached. A unifying strategy between observations and modelling is more than ever required for this to be possible.
The primary aim of this review is therefore to provide readers with a detailed interdisciplinary description of past and current research on the problem, from the most elaborate observational strategies to recent theoretical and numerical modelling efforts that have all taken up the challenge of uncovering the origins of supergranulation. Throughout the text, we attempt to pick up the most robust findings so far, but we also outline the difficulties, limitations and open questions that the community has been confronted with over the years.
In the light of the current understanding of the multiscale dynamics of the quiet photosphere, we finally suggest a tentative picture of supergranulation as a dynamical feature of turbulent magnetohydrodynamic convection in an extended spatial domain, with the aim of stimulating future research and discussions.
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