Sheffield looks at world’s biggest telescope

A consortium of universities, including Sheffield, are building cameras for the ‘super telescope’ based in Hawaii

The world’s biggest and most revolutionary solar telescope is being built with the help of researchers from the University of Sheffield.

Led by Queens University Belfast, the Sheffield team is building cameras for the £344m super telescope which will be situated in Hawaii.

The Daniel K Inouye Solar Telescope (DKIST), which will be launched in 2019, is being constructed by the US National Solar Observatory on Haleakala mountain in Maui, Hawaii. With a four-metre diameter primary mirror, the telescope will be able to pick up unprecedented detail on the surface of the Sun – the equivalent of being able to examine a £1 coin from 100kms away.

It is hoped that DKIST will address fundamental questions at the core of contemporary solar physics via high-speed (sub-second timescales) spectroscopic and magnetic measurements of the solar photosphere, chromosphere and corona – the different layers of the Sun’s atmosphere. The project will be mainly funded by the US National Science Foundation. 

Professor Michail Balikhin from the University of Sheffield said: “The development of this telescope provides great potential for us to make earlier forecasts of space weather hazards, such as identifying solar winds which can cause huge disruption to life on Earth.

‘Our Space System Laboratory in Sheffield has a well-established track record in space weather forecasting using a spacecraft situated about 1.5 million km from our planet. At the moment this enables us to identify space weather, such as solar wind velocities, approximately one hour before they reach Earth, but once this telescope is built we may be able to significantly extend this time.”

Dr Viktor Fedun from the University’s Solar Wave Theory Group added: “The new high-resolution cameras used by the telescope will provide an unprecedented amount of solar image data. Researchers at Sheffield will use their leading expertise in numerical modelling of plasma processes to develop new algorithms and numerical techniques to process the data observed from the new telescope which will be really impactful to the UK science community and beyond.”

The consortium will oversee the development and delivery of the cameras, and take the lead in supporting the UK solar physics community in their use of DKIST by providing a set of processing tools for DKIST data, synthetic observations to validate diagnostic approaches, and support for developing observing proposals.

The consortium of UK institutes involved in the project is led by Queen’s University Belfast and includes Armagh Observatory, Northumbria University, University College London, and the Universities of Glasgow, Sheffield, St. Andrews and Warwick. The consortium will partner with Belfast company and Queen’s University spinout Andor Technology and the Science and Technology Facilities Council.