Science and Technology Facilities Council
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UK to be key partner in the world’s most advanced solar telescope

The UK is investing in the world’s biggest and most advanced solar telescope, currently under construction in Hawaii. This ‘super-telescope’ will have UK-built cameras and detectors that will be able to record even the tiniest amounts of solar activity, and so help to predict when solar magnetic energy could disrupt our climate and our technological systems on Earth.

The new instruments will be funded by the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), which is providing around £2.5M for the project, and developed by a consortium of UK universities and businesses.

Professor Grahame Blair, STFC’s Executive Director of Programmes, said, “Understanding and predicting space weather and its impacts is becoming much more important as we become more reliant on technology in our everyday lives. We at STFC are very pleased to be able to contribute to this project, which will help scientists and industry leaders to prepare for any future solar disruption and find ways to diminish its effects.”

The Daniel K Inouye Solar Telescope (DKIST), which will be operational in 2019, is being built by the US National Solar Observatory on Haleakala mountain in Maui, Hawaii. 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 £1 coin from 100 km away.

It is hoped that DKIST will address fundamental questions at the core of contemporary solar physics – such as what causes solar magnetic variability or how magnetic energy is transported, stored and released, and with what consequences? It will do this via high-speed (sub-second timescales) spectroscopic and magnetic measurements of the solar photosphere, chromosphere and corona. DKIST, which will cost $344M, will be mainly funded by the US National Science Foundation.

Professor Mihalis Mathioudakis of the Astrophysics Research Centre at Queen’s University Belfast, Principal Investigator of the UK consortium, said: “The Sun is the most important astronomical object for humankind with solar activity driving space weather and having profound effects on global climate and technology-based communications. To understand solar activity we need to observe and model the physical processes in the solar atmosphere on their intrinsic spatial and temporal scales so that, among other questions, we can reliably forecast this activity in space.

“Scientific discoveries demand technological innovation and play a major role in economic growth. DKIST will be a revolutionary instrument for ground-based solar physics, which is a growth area in the UK. It will be in a position to explore key questions regarding solar magnetic field generation and dissipation, solar variability, atmospheric structure and dynamics. Our consortium will deliver key equipment that will allow DKIST to achieve these scientific goals.”

More information:

Marion O’Sullivan 
STFC Press Office
Tel: 01235 445627
Mob: 07824 888990

Notes for editors:

Images, which should be credited to: “National Solar Observatory/AURA/NSF”, are available from the website.

The consortium of UK institutes is led by Queen's University Belfast and includes Armagh Observatory, Northumbria University, University College London, and the Universities of Glasgow, Sheffield, St. Andrews and Warwick. The consortium will partner with Queen’s University spinout company Andor Technology, and the Science and Technology Facilities Council. The consortium will oversee the development and delivery of the cameras, and take the lead in supporting the UK solar physics community in their use of DKIST by providing a set of processing tools for DKIST data, synthetic observations to validate diagnostic approaches, and support for developing observing proposals.


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