‘Super telescope’ to improve space weather forecasts

To be launched in 2019, the world’s biggest solar telescope based in Hawaii would significantly improve the forecasting of space weather hazards, say researchers from the University of Sheffield in Britain.

A consortium of universities, including Sheffield, are building cameras for the ‘super telescope’, Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope (DKIST), on Haleakala mountain in Maui, Hawaii.

“The development of this telescope provides great potential for us to make earlier forecasts of space weather hazards, such as identifying solar winds which can cause huge disruption to life on Earth,” said professor Michail Balikhin from the University of Sheffield.

With a four-metre diameter primary mirror, the telescope will be able to pick up unprecedented detail on the surface of the Sun – the equivalent of being able to examine a one pound coin from 100km away, the researchers said.

DKIST would address fundamental questions at the core of contemporary solar physics via high-speed (sub-second time scales) spectroscopic and magnetic measurements of the solar photosphere, chromosphere and corona – the different layers of the Sun’s atmosphere, the researchers added.

“This is a fantastic opportunity to significantly improve the forecasting of space weather,” said professor Robertus von Fay-Siebenburgen.

In 1996, a particularly large amount of energetic solar plasma material was ejected from the Sun towards the Earth, which damaged satellites and electrical transmission facilities, as well as disrupting communications systems.

“The understanding and prediction of space weather is vitally important in the age of human exploration of the solar system and the development of this new telescope will enable us to predict space weather events much earlier,” Fay-Siebenburgen said.

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Being constructed by the US National Solar Observatory, the project will be mainly funded by the US National Science Foundation.

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