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New Solar Telescopes

June 4, 2013

The Sun is the only star we can study in any detail. It’s just 93 million miles away, and we receive more light from it than from all the other stars in the universe combined. Even so, there are still many questions about how the Sun works. Those questions are especially important because the Sun can have a big impact on modern technology.

Specially designed telescopes keep an eye on the Sun pretty much every minute of the day. So do about a half-dozen spacecraft. Even so, new and better solar telescopes continue to come online, with the biggest yet under construction.

Astronomers in Europe dedicated that continent’s largest solar telescope just a year ago. And astronomers in the United States are building the largest solar telescope in the world.

The Advanced Technology Solar Telescope will have a main mirror that’s more than twice the size of any current solar telescope. And it’ll use a special technique to smooth out the blurring effects of Earth’s atmosphere. The combination will show details on the Sun’s surface that are just a few dozen miles across.

With this new tool, scientists will probe the Sun’s 22-year magnetic cycle. They’ll study how the Sun’s outer atmosphere is heated to millions of degrees. And they’ll look at how the Sun generates outbursts that can affect everything from satellites to power grids here on Earth — answering a few more questions about our friendly neighborhood star.

More about the Sun tomorrow.


Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2013

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