New German telescope stares at the sun
May 24th, 2012
10:18 AM ET

New German telescope stares at the sun

A consortium of German scientists unveiled this week Europe’s largest solar telescope, which will give mankind its clearest images of the sun to date.

The telescope, given the appropriately Teutonic name Gregor, is a powerful contraption capable of staring directly into the nearby gas giant.

Until now, scientists were unable to point conventional telescopes at the sun for very long without the mirrors overheating and distorting the image.

But Gregor, built from a sturdy lithium aluminosilicate glass-ceramic, employs reflective surfaces made out of silicon carbide, a material that does not warp under the heat of the sun.

In addition, the telescope, located atop a volcano in the Canary Islands, also boasts a completely open structure, allowing cool ocean breezes to pass through it and further reduce its overall temperature.

And with the help of countless reflectors, spectrometers, etc., Gregor will actually allow astronomers to compensate for any atmospheric distortions, providing crystal-clear images of even small-scale phenomena, like sunspots as small as 70 kilometers in diameter.

“Much about the sun still remains a mystery,” said Reiner Hammer, a scientist from the Kiepenheuer Institute for Solar Physics, one of the driving forces behind the project. “So when you’re able to look at it with such unprecedented definition, you can’t help but hope for progress.”

Their new mega-telescope is equipped with a so-called “spectro polarimeter,” which the scientists will use to map the sun’s atmosphere and magnetic field by analyzing absorptions and emissions within the solar spectrum, according to scientist Rolf Schlichenmaier.

Absorptions within the spectrum are designated by thin black lines and represent light being blocked, or “absorbed,” by certain elements in the atmosphere. So-called “absorption lines” can be analyzed to determine the composition of whatever substance the light was passing through.

“The shape of this line tells you about temperature, pressure - all the information we have from the solar atmosphere, we get from those lines,” Schlichenmaier said.

“So from the line’s width, we can say how hot it is there,” he said. “And from the shift in velocity and pressure and density - these are all the physical quantities that we can derive from the shape, the position of such lines.”

This becomes even more impressive when you consider the fact that there are some 2,000-3,000 lines in the visible spectrum.

“These lines form at different temperature and heights within the atmosphere,” Schlichenmaier said. “So from studying many of those lines we can retrieve the 3D structure of the atmosphere of the sun.”

The trick is collecting the data and analyzing it before the section of the sun you’re observing changes again. For this, Schlichenmaier says, you need telescopes that are large enough to take in substantial light to minimize exposure times.

When you’re talking about taking a picture of something 93 million miles (150 million kilometers) away and analyzing the data before it changes shape and temperature, every second counts.

soundoff (12 Responses)
  1. radianttechnologies

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    June 22, 2012 at 7:17 am |
  2. EddieV

    Maybe now we can finally find out what the Aliens are doing up there.

    May 30, 2012 at 2:40 pm |
    • MassiveMarbles

      You can always trust another government to admit to things the American government wont. Now the truth will come out whether or not the United States wants it to. Good Bye to the bad old days of UFO deceit. Let's all welcome in the new days of knowledge and trust from governments that respect a person's right to know!

      May 30, 2012 at 2:48 pm |
  3. MassiveMarbles

    I honestly understand your anxiety. This world is full of wars, greed, hatred, dishonesty. Its almost like humans were bred to be self destructive. And, in our most dire moments we look around with sadness and wonder why is it like this...? Have you ever noticed that we need a crisis to bind us together as one people? When this occurs, we are an unstoppable force of good and bravery! We need an ongoing crisis against us all to perpetuate the good within us all...That is my statement!

    May 30, 2012 at 8:17 am |
  4. MassiveMarbles

    Anyone who doesn't admit to the awesomeness of German engineering is a fool...

    May 30, 2012 at 8:06 am |
  5. Brad

    You seem like a really cool guy. I bet you're a joy to hang out with.

    May 30, 2012 at 5:50 am |
  6. Eric

    with this we can manage solar storms/erruptions better and protect all the satilets that are circuling out there in the space before all phones and computers go dead

    May 27, 2012 at 5:11 pm |
  7. Squinty Feller

    I had to put on my sunglasses just to read this article. 😎

    May 27, 2012 at 11:57 am |
    • minhajarifin

      finally a smiley used in the most appropriate manner.

      May 28, 2012 at 8:36 pm |
  8. mlmitts

    Mollie, yes it is awesome for sure!! Imagine if you will how studies of our close neighbor the sun will bring even more information, data for solar storm forecasting, how man's understanding of the closest star we have that gives us light and warmth. I am sure that over the years to come studies that will increase our understanding of the universe can even happen in our back yards, and yes I am an astronomer myself. Enjoy the views.

    May 25, 2012 at 12:17 pm |
    • minhajarifin

      mlmitts, will we get to see solar flares like the one CNN posted on the 16th of April. Its embedded on my blog (Hi There News). One of the questions that Anderson Cooper asked was if the video was taken by a camera constantly fixed towards the sun. So hopefully Gregor will be capturing some of this fantastic action from the sun.

      May 28, 2012 at 8:33 pm |
  9. mollie

    this is the most awesome thing in the universe.

    May 25, 2012 at 7:45 am |


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