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NJIT to Unveil World's Largest Solar Telescope at Big Bear

04/22/2008 09:20PM

NJIT to Unveil World's Largest Solar Telescope at Big Bear
During the next decade, solar physicists will learn more than they have dreamed possible about the Sun, thanks to current technologies that have advanced the capacity of land-based instruments. Philip R. Goode of New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) has led a five-year project to build the world’s largest and most capable 1.6-meter solar telescope at Big Bear Solar Observatory (BBSO) in California. First light is slated for Jume 2008.

Goode, distinguished professor of physics at NJIT and director of the Center for Solar-Terrestrial Research, which manages the observatory, detailed his vision for future advances in solar astronomy.

Goode has studied for many years the oscillating waves of the Sun’s atmosphere, known as helioseismology. Goode’s research has also focused on magnetic fields. He is expert at combining Big Bear Solar Observatory (BBSO) ground-based data with satellite data to determine dynamic properties of the solar magnetic fields. His other areas of interest include working to place a lower limit on solar irradiance and to probe the solar interior. Such studies impact scientists’ understanding and ability to predict space weather.

Since 1998, Goode has focused on climate studies in which the Earth’s large-scale reflectance has been measured using earthshine. He and BBSO researchers have spent time modeling the Earth’s reflectivity using satellite cloud cover and found appreciable decadal variation of reflectance due to cloud changes. BBSO is building a global network to measure the Earth’s global reflectance and spectrum.

NJIT assumed leadership of Big Bear in 1997. The observatory is located high in a mountain lake in southern California and was originally developed in 1969 by the California Institute of Technology. Big Bear is one of the world’s leading observatories focused on advancing knowledge of the Sun.

The magnitude of the new off-axis solar telescope—with three times the resolution of the older one—will enable Goode to probe the fundamental scale of the Sun’s dynamic magnetic fields. These fields are of great interest to solar physicists because they can cause storms — often referred to as solar flares — that destroy satellites and disrupt the power grid and telecommunications.

The telescope will feature the world’s largest solar aperture. It will feed a high-order adaptive optics system, which in turn will feed the next generation of technologies for measuring magnetic fields and dynamic events using visible infrared light. A parallel computer system for real-time image enhancement will highlight the new instrument.

The National Solar Observatory is operated by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA) under a cooperative agreement with the National Science Foundation (NSF) for the benefit of the astronomical community.

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