A new telescope at the Big Bear Solar Observatory has captured the most detailed visible light image ever of a sunspot. The 1.6 meter, generically named NST -- for New Solar Telescope -- has remarkably clear seeing thanks to its location on a pristine mountain lake in Southern California, and also benefited from adaptive optics to generate the image.
While the image has remarkable resolution of about a 50-mile section of the sun's surface, the technology is a test-bed for an even more ambitious project called the Advanced Technology Solar Telescope, which is expected to be completed in the coming decade.
From the press release:
"The new telescope now feeds a high-order adaptive optics system, which in turn feeds the next generation of technologies for measuring magnetic fields and dynamic events using visible and infrared light..."
"The new optical system will allow the researchers to increase the distortion-free field of view to allow for better ways to study these larger and puzzling areas of the Sun. 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."