August 7, 2013
Stunningly Precise Solar Images From Big Bear’s NST
April Flowers for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
New and remarkably detailed photos of the Sun have been obtained by researchers at the New Jersey Institute of Technology's (NJIT) Big Bear Solar Observatory (BBSO) in Big Bear, California, with the New Solar Telescope (NST). Never-before-seen details of solar magnetism revealed in photospheric and chromospheric features are observed in these new photographs.
"With our new generation visible imaging spectrometer (VIS), the solar atmosphere from the photosphere to the chromosphere, can be monitored in a near real time. One image was taken with VIS on May 22, 2013 in H-alpha line center. The lawn-shaped pattern illustrates ultrafine magnetic loops rooted in the photosphere below," said Wenda Cao, NJIT Associate Professor of Physics and BBSO Associate Director.
The most precise sunspot image ever taken, the other photospheric image reveals a textbook sunspot that looks like a daisy with many petals. In the image, the dark core of the sunspot is the umbra, while the petals are the penumbra. "With the unprecedented resolution of BBSO's NST, many previously unknown small-scale sunspot features can now be perceived," said Cao.
Specifically, there are the twisting flows along the penumbra's less dark filaments, the complicated dynamic motion in the light bridge vertically spanning the umbra's darkest part and the dark cores of the small bright points or umbra dots.
NJIT took over the management of BBSO in 1997 from the California Institute of Technology. NJIT Distinguished Professor Philip R. Goode, a Fellow of the American Physical Society and the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Geophysical Union, is the founder and executive director of the program. Goode spearheaded the project to build the world's most capable solar telescope at BBSO, which was completed in 2009. The off-axis instrument, with a 1.6 meter clear aperture, is the world's largest solar aperture telescope.
Currently, the telescope is being upgraded to include the only solar multi-conjugate adaptive optics system with the goal being to fully correct atmospheric distortion over a wide field of view, as well as the only fully cryogenic solar spectrograph for probing the Sun in the near infrared. Since 2009, other instruments have been brought online that enable NST to probe the Sun with its full scientific capability for measuring magnetic fields and dynamic events using visible and infrared light.
Cao is the lead scientist in charge of NST scientific instrumentation development. The NST, built and operated by BBSO/NJIT, is the first facility-class solar telescope built in the US in a generation. Thus far, Cao has successfully led a number of scientific instrument projects for the NST. These include leading the installation of VIS, the infrared imaging magnetograph, the broad-band filter imager, the near infrared imaging spectro-polarimeter and upgrading AO-76.
These projects have enabled cutting-edge research and brought unprecedented high-resolution data, which are now online. Cao is also co-Principal Investigator on the AO-308, the cryogenic infrared spectrograph and the multi-conjugate adaptive optics projects.
Cao received an NSF Early Career Development Award, which has allowed him and his research group to further explore the techniques of magnetic field measurement of the photosphere and chromospheres employing the infrared spectral lines. The team hopes to eventually uncover the mystery of solar coronal heating.
Government agencies and scientists have placed increasing emphasis on space weather to learn more about which solar magnetic storms can have harmful effects on satellites, the terrestrial power grid and telecommunications in recent years, making the data obtained by the BBSO of increasing practical significance.