The Sun has been in the news recently. It just revealed one of the greatest marvels of technology being implemented to study outer space. It is about seeing the Sun’s surface to the closest possible distance ever done by mankind. This, therefore, makes the piece of media the most detailed picture of the Sun to ever be in existence.
The viral video that we see of the Sun’s surface comes from a newly built telescope in Hawaii. The Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope located on the Haleakala mountain in Maui, Hawaii is thought to be as one of the largest and most powerful telescopes in existence, and we already see why.
Once the telescope has been fully commissioned, it sets out to study the powerful magnetic field and understanding more about the behaviorism of the Sun.
For the video that it had shot, the telescope had observed the Sun for a whole ten-minute span. The popping that we see go about in the video is actually the plasma rising and falling on the surface of the Sun. The bright spots are where the plasma is rising, and the surrounding darker lines are where the plasma is cooling as it retracts.
The video is of such high resolution and so close to the Sun, that the details that we see are only 18 miles across. Even so, this is still so very far away, because each of those cells from which the plasma popped in the video is, on a real scale, about the size of Texas, with the entire area covered being 11,800 miles by 6,700 miles.
A Program Director of the National Science Foundation’s Division of Astronomical Sciences is quoted as saying “The Inouye Solar Telescope will collect more information about our sun during the first five years of its lifetime than all the solar data gathered since Galileo first pointed a telescope at the sun in 1612.”
So, for the output to be so path-breaking in solar science, just what is the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope and just how powerful is it created to be?
The telescope was also known as the Advanced Technology Solar Telescope until 2013 when it was changed to Daniel K. Inouye, after a US Senator for Hawaii. There was the involvement of about twenty-two institutions collaborating in the construction of the telescope, funded by the National Science Foundation of the USA. The telescope is managed by the National Solar Observatory.
The build of the telescope is styled after the Gregorian Telescope, which is a kind of reflecting telescope first built in the 17 century. The Daniel Inouye is also an optical, solar telescope meaning that is it aimed at gathering and focusing light from the visible part of the electromagnetic spectrum which aids in the creation of a magnified picture that can be viewed directly as a photograph, and allows the scientists to collect data through electronic image sensors.
Even though the construction of the telescope had concluded in 2013 itself, the telescope had achieved First Light only in December of 2019. FirstLight is when a telescope is used for the first time to take an astronomical picture after it has been constructed. The time in-between was spent adjusting and rectifying the telescope as required. The telescope is slated for routine science observations from July 2020.
So how powerful is this telescope? Well, according to the National Solar Observatory, the telescope can observe the Sun in action to near-infrared wavelengths. It comes equipped with a 4.24-meter primary mirror that makes it the biggest solar telescope in the world. Further, the adaptive optics integrated in the telescope make for clearer images as they correct atmospheric distortions and blurring that might occur when studying solar images. This results in the output of higher resolutions thus making studies of features on the Sun as small as 20 kilometers possible.
The Daniel K. Inouye Telescope coupled with the Solar Orbiter (SolO) observatory that is set to launch in Cape Canaveral, Florida, quite soon makes solar studies extremely exciting. SolO is a joint European-US effort into understanding the physics of the Sun as well. SolO will take pictures of from the closest-ever distance known to mankind – about 42 million kilometers from the surface. The technology on-board would enable it to see features as small as 70 kilometers across but sense much broader wavelengths than the Inouye telescope.
So, all in all, astronomy and astrophysics is teeming with excitement over the new advancements and discoveries brought about in the recent past, and being planned for in the nearest future.