Eye on the sun

Tuesday 10 February 2015

The Sun

Scientists at the University of St Andrews are helping to build the world’s most powerful solar telescope, which it’s hoped will help address fundamental questions at the core of contemporary solar physics.

Due to be launched in 2019, the $300 million (£197 million) Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope (DKIST) – the largest ground-based telescope in the world – will reveal the surface of the sun in unprecedented detail.

Professor Alan Hood, an expert in solar physics at the University of St Andrews, has hailed the telescope being built at the US National Solar Observatory on Haleakala Mountain in Maui, Hawaii, as the most exciting development in ground-based solar observation in decades.

The telescope’s 4-metre diameter mirror will visualise features as small as 18 miles on the surface of the Sun – the equivalent of being able to see a £1 coin from a distance of 60 miles – and capture high-speed measurements of the atmospheres and aura surrounding the Sun.

Professor Hood, based at the School of Mathematics and Statistics at the University of St Andrews said: “Ground-based solar physics is a growth area in the UK. DKIST uniquely combines high performance specifications and technology designed to visualise and capture images of the Sun to increase our knowledge of the nearest star to Earth.

“Once operational the telescope will enable us to determine how the Sun’s magnetic field can transfer, store and release magnetic energy in the form of heat and dynamic eruptions.”

A consortium of leading UK scientific institutes is working on the project, funded mainly by the US National Science Foundation.

The University of St Andrews is making a major contribution to the DKIST project. In addition to Prof Hood’s involvement, Professor Clare Parnell is a member of the Science Working Group determining the science goals for DKIST, while Professor Ineke De Moortel is a member of the software team developing analysis tools to enhance, detect and track the multitude of waves and flows emanating from the Sun.

“Developing the theory to explain the observations gained from the telescope is a crucial aspect of the project,” continued Prof Hood.

“However, the pivotal role played by UK scientific institutions individually and collaboratively will also help the country’s solar physics community maximise the telescope’s potential. Tools to process data and providing support to develop observational proposals are just two examples of what will be possible. The prospects, like the views captured by DKIST, are hugely exciting.”


Notes to News Editors

The Daniel K Inouye Solar Telescope (DKIST) will be launched in 2019. The consortium of UK institutes involved in the project is led by Queen’s University Belfast and includes the University of St Andrews, the University of Glasgow, Armagh Observatory, Northumbria University, University College London and the Universities of Sheffield and Warwick.

Professor Hood (University of St Andrews) is available for interview on tel: 01334 463710 or email: [email protected]

Images are available on request.

Issued by the University of St Andrews Communications Office, contactable on 01334 467230, or at [email protected]

Category Research

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