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NJIT's Big Bear Observatory Resolves to 50 miles of the Sun's Surface

08/25/2010 05:50PM

NJIT's Big Bear Observatory Resolves to 50 miles of the Sun's Surface
New Jersey Institute of Technology's Big Bear Solar Observatory (BBSO) has achieved "first light" with an new adaptive optics deformable mirror. A photo of a sunspot, the most detailed ever obtained in visible light, was released to showcase its resolution.

Philip R. Goode of NJIT said that the images were achieved with the 1.6 m clear aperture, off-axis New Solar Telescope (NST) at BBSO. The telescope has a resolution covering about 50 miles of the Sun's surface.

The telescope, the worlds’ largest ground-based solar instrument, is the crown jewel of BBSO, the first facility-class solar observatory built in more than a generation in the US. It is undergoing commissioning at BBSO. Since 1997, under Goode’s direction, NJIT has owned and operated BBSO. It is located in a clear mountain lake, characterized by sustained atmospheric stability. This is essential for BBSO’s primary interests of measuring and understanding complex solar phenomena with dedicated telescopes and instruments.

The images were taken July 1 and 2, 2010 by the NST with atmospheric distortion corrected by its 97 actuator deformable mirror. By the summer of 2011, in collaboration with the National Solar Observatory (NSO), BBSO will have upgraded the current adaptive optics system to one utilizing a 349 actuator deformable mirror.

With support from the National Science Foundation (NSF), Air Force Office of Scientific Research, NASA, and NJIT, the NST began operation in the summer of 2009. Additional support from NSF was received a few months ago to fund further upgrades to this new optical system.

The NST will be the pathfinder for an even larger ground-based telescope, the Advanced Technology Solar Telescope (ATST), to be built over the next decade. NJIT is an ATST co-principal investigator on this NSF project. The new grant will allow Goode and partners from the National Solar Observatory to develop a new and more sophisticated kind of adaptive optics, known as multi-conjugate adaptive optics (MCAO). The new optical system will allow the researchers to increase the distortion-free field of view to allow for better ways to study puzzling areas of the Sun in more detail. MCAO on the NST will be a pathfinder for the optical system of NSO's 4-meter aperture ATST coming later in the decade.

Scientists believe magnetic structures, like sunspots hold an important key to understanding space weather. Space weather, which originates in the Sun, can have dire consequences on Earth's climate and environment. A bad storm can disrupt power grids and communication, destroy satellites, and even expose airline pilots, crew, and passengers to radiation.

The new telescope feeds a high-order adaptive optics system, which in turn feeds a new generation of technologies for measuring magnetic fields and dynamic events using visible and infrared light as well as a parallel computer system for real-time image enhancement.

Goode and BBSO scientists have studied solar magnetic fields for many years and are expert at combining BBSO ground-based data with satellite data to determine dynamic properties of the solar magnetic fields.

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