China Completes World's Largest Solar Telescope Array

Genie Completes World's Largest Solar Telescope Array
Genie Completes World's Largest Solar Telescope Array - A large ring of radio antennae in China will help researchers study explosions in the Sun's outer atmosphere. Credit: Liu Zhongjun/China News Service/Getty

China has installed a number of instruments, including the Daocheng Solar Radio Telescope, to study the Sun over the past three years.

Engineers have just finished fitting the final pieces of equipment into the largest array of telescopes studying the Sun, bordering the Tibetan Plateau.

The Daocheng Solar Radio Telescope (DSRT), whose more than 300 dish-shaped antennas form a circle with a radius of more than 3 kilometers, was completed on November 13. Trials will begin in June. The 100.000.000 Yuan ($14.000.000) observatory will help scientists study solar flares and how they affect the environment around Earth.

According to Maria Kazachenko, a solar physicist at the University of Colorado at Boulder, "We're entering the golden age of solar astronomy because so many huge solar telescopes are coming." These include the European Space Agency's Solar Orbiter to launch in 2020 and NASA's Parker Solar Probe to launch in 2018, both of which will collect data as they orbit the star.

Over the next few years, the Sun is expected to go through a phase of intense activity. DSRT's radio frequency data will complement data from telescopes operating in other frequency bands. At least four solar-observing satellites launched by China in the last two years use ultraviolet and X-ray wavelengths to study the star. Hui Tian, ​​a solar physicist at Peking University in Beijing, claims that China now has instruments that can see the Sun at all levels, from its surface to its outermost atmosphere.

According to solar physicist Ding Mingde of Nanjing University, observatories in China will also provide important information about solar activity that cannot be seen by telescopes in other time zones. Mingde adds that global collaboration is essential for solar research.

Radio telescopes such as the DSRT (CMEs) are helpful in investigating solar flares and coronal mass ejections that occur in the Sun's upper atmosphere (corona). The Sun's disrupted magnetic field "breaks off" and then reconnects, causing these enormous eruptions of heated plasma from the corona. The 'space weather' created when high-energy particles from a CME blast toward Earth can destroy orbiting satellites and disrupt energy infrastructure on Earth.

In February, a moderately small CME destroyed 40 Starlink communications satellites launched by California-based aerospace company SpaceX. According to Ding, the demand for better space weather forecasting is increasing as more satellites are in orbit.

According to Kazachenko, it is still difficult to predict the weather in space. According to Jingye Yan, chief engineer of the DSRT at the National Center for Space Sciences, a division of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing, the telescope will be able to track the evolution of CMEs thanks to its wide field of view, which is at least 36 times larger than the Sun's disk. and observe how high-energy particles propagate through space. With this information, Yan thinks, "we can predict whether and when coronal mass ejections will reach Earth."

With its 313 antennas, DSRT will be able to produce higher-accuracy forecasts for space weather. According to Yan, this massive array could pick up weaker signals from high-energy particles that smaller arrays observing in the same frequency range (150 megahertz to 450 megahertz) might miss. An example of such an array is the Nanchay Radioheliograph in France, which has 47 antennas.

According to Yan, international researchers will have access to DSRT's observation data. In addition, DSRT will be made available for other types of observations at night, such as pulsar surveys, according to plans from the China National Space Science Center, which oversees the work of DSRT. China is also building a brand new optical telescope on the Tibetan Plateau in Sichuan, which will be completed in 2026.

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