The 1.6m New Solar Telescope (NST) designed and manufactured by DFM Engineering and installed at the Big Bear Solar Observatory (BBSO) is the most powerful ground-based solar telescope in the world. Recent research and striking images have exposed new information about the events on the sun. The telescope has captured images of sunspots previously thought to be relatively calm that have proven to be quite tumultuous, three-ribbon solar flare events which are disturbances of the sun's magnetic field erupting charged material into space, and immense bubbling granules with magnetic flux rope explosions of energy.
Nola Taylor Redd of Space.com has produced a breathtaking video of action on the sun. This incredible movie shows shockwaves created as the sunspot pulsed and the flow of material in the dark central region where temperatures reach 7,000 degrees Fahrenheit!
The image detail is unprecedented because of the telescope's optical quality and capability to capture such data. The NST captures 100 images in 15 second bursts, correcting images in real time to get the sharpest images available.
Alexander Kosoviechev, of BBSO said during the 224th meeting of the American Astronomical Society (AAS) that, "It provides the highest resolution solar images that are now available. In solar physics, it's critical to get this resolution." He and his team were presenting unique three-dimensional views of sunspots acquired with the NST proving that the sunspots are surprisingly active.
Sunspots are compact, concentrated magnetic fields with some as large as Jupiter and lasting for weeks. With the NST, it was discovered that what Kosoviechev called the "previously hidden" umbra, the structure of the central region of a sunspot, is very active and helps to understand sunspot dynamics. The Kosovichev team created a 3D movie of the activity on the sun over the course of five hours to demonstrate their findings. 3D views of sunspots with the BBSO 1.6m solar telescope are diagramed and explained on the Big Bear Solar Observatory website.
Santiago Vargas Dominguez studies solar granules at BBSO. Granules, regions on the sun where plasma rises to the surface like bubbles in boiling water are another facet of study available because of the high resolution of the images from the NST. Analyzing granules with the NST at BBSO has led Dominguez to observe an emergence of a 6,000 mile long magnetic flux rope inside a granule while documenting and measuring the powerful resulting explosions as it bubbled to the solar surface.
The most exciting revelation came from highly magnified images provided by the NST. The surprising image was of an unusual event identified as a three-ribbon solar flare. Haimin Wang of the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) studied successive three ribbon flares with the NST that occurred twice within a half hour. "We can really magnify to see the structure of the flare," Wang said. "On one side, the two connected loops of the flare twist together while the third sits on its own, asymmetrically twisted at a different orientation."
The image quality and high-resolution detail is unprecedented. This detail quality is a direct result of the optics designed by the NJIT staff and the thermal control system designed by Dr. Frank Melsheimer.
The primary mirror for the NST uses a 1.6m diameter segment of a much larger parabolic mirror. This allows an unobstructed aperture to reduce scattered light in the image.
Dr. Melsheimer and the DFM Engineering staff designed and implemented a unique thermal control system, a closed-cycle, chilled-air system as part of the telescope mount to limit so-called "mirror seeing". The chilled air flows over the surface of the mirror sweeping away turbulent cells and directly cooling the primary mirror on the front surface and on the back surface. Even with the "air conditioning" of the primary mirror, after a day of observations the mirror must be cooled overnight to ensure that it is somewhat cooler than ambient in the morning. Controlling the temperature of the primary mirror is a key design issue for this large-aperture solar telescope.
The Big Bear Solar Observatory (BBSO) is located in the San Bernardino Mountains of California. The observatory is built out into Big Bear Lake on a causeway so it is surrounded by water. The water stabilizes the atmosphere surrounding the optics supporting the thermal control system. It is this thermal control system that allows for the superior quality of the images of the sun being collected that has proven to be essential for the primary interests of measuring and understanding solar complex phenomena.
The 1.6m New Solar Telescope (NST) unobstructed aperture solar telescope - designed and manufactured by DFM Engineering - was officially operational in October 2009.
It is the largest of its kind in the world and making phenomenal solar discoveries possible in the science of astronomy.
For more information on the design, manufacture and installation of the telescope, please see NJIT Solar Telescope at BBSO posted in May, 2010 by DFM Engineering.
NJIT New Solar Telescope Manufacturing
NST Fabrication History by NJIT New Solar Telescope Manufacturing
Latest Halpha Images
"The Sun Watchers" video from Astronomy Outreach Network