QUB Plays Role In Solar Science Breakthrough

Queen's University Belfast has played a fundamental role in capturing the clearest and most detailed images of the Sun.

Images of the star were taken on the world's largest telescope and released by the National Science Foundation (NSF).

It comes after a project involving Queen's and seven other institutes that delivered and supplied the cameras.

Experts believe the new photos will advance solar science research into a new era and facilitate a leap forward in our understanding of the Sun's impact on our planet.

The project is expected to lead to better understanding of space weather, providing governments and utilities with more data and warnings about potential disasters.

They allow researchers to get a closer view of the star's surface and show cell like-structures, each compared roughly to the size of Texas, that are signature of violent motions that transport heat from inside the Sun to its surface.

The Inouye Solar Telescope developed by local researchers will provide important details for scientists.

The consortium of UK universities was led by QUB professor Mihalis Mathioudakis, who said the project has opened a new horizon in solar physics.

"Its imaging capability allows us to study the physical processes at work in the Sun's atmosphere at unprecedented levels of detail," Prof. Mathioudakis commented. "We worked hard over the past few years with Belfast-based Andor Technology to develop the cameras that equip the Inouye Solar Telescope and it is highly rewarding to now see this fascinating imaging."
News Image
Activity on the Sun, known as space weather, can affect systems on Earth. Magnetic eruptions on the Sun can impact air travel, disrupt satellite communications and bring down power grids, causing long-lasting blackouts and disabling technologies such as GPS.

Finally resolving these tiny magnetic features is central to what makes the Inouye Solar Telescope unique. It can measure and characterise the Sun's magnetic field in more detail than ever seen before and determine the causes of potentially harmful solar activity.

"It's all about the magnetic field," said Thomas Rimmele, director of the Inouye Solar Telescope. "To unravel the Sun's biggest mysteries, we have to not only be able to clearly see these tiny structures from 93 million miles away but very precisely measure their magnetic field strength and direction near the surface and trace the field as it extends out into the million-degree corona, the outer atmosphere of the Sun."

Better understanding of the origins of potential disasters will enable governments and utilities to better prepare for inevitable future space weather events. It is expected that notification of potential impacts could occur earlier - as much as 48 hours ahead of time instead of the current standard, which is about 48 minutes. This would allow for more time to secure power grids and critical infrastructure and to put satellites into safe mode.

"These first images are just the beginning," said David Boboltz, programme director in NSF's division of astronomical sciences and who oversees the facility's construction and operations. "Over the next six months, the Inouye telescope's team of scientists, engineers and technicians will continue testing and commissioning the telescope to make it ready for use by the international solar scientific community. The Inouye Solar Telescope will collect more information about our Sun during the first five years of its lifetime than all the solar data gathered since Galileo first pointed a telescope at the Sun in 1612."


Related Northern Ireland News Stories
Click here for the latest headlines.

21 November 2017
Work Begins On New Solar Farm In South Antrim
Work has started on a new solar farm in south Antrim. The £7 million scheme will supply electricity to NI Water's Dunmore Water Treatment works. The work is taking place on a 33-acre site on the eastern shore of Lough Neagh and when completed will produce a peak output of 4.99 megawatts and is expected to save over £0.
19 April 2013
Planning Permission Waived For Solar Panels
From May, schools, businesses and farm buildings in Northern Ireland will no longer need planning permission for solar panels. Environment Minister Alex Attwood made the announcement today.
12 August 2014
£14m Film Studios Announced For Belfast
Two new film studios at a cost of £14m are to be built in Belfast, the Department of the Environment has announced. Planning approval has been granted for the new studios, which will expand on the existing facilities in the city's Titanic Quarter, where the HBO fantasy drama Game Of Thrones is filmed.
25 January 2013
New Solar Energy Support Levels Announced
New support levels for solar energy in Northern Ireland have been announced. The new levels will come into operation on 1 April 2013 and are designed to incentivise larger solar photovoltaic stations, as well as offering higher support levels for building mounted solar projects, as opposed to ground mounted.
04 January 2011
Moon Eclipses Return To Work
This morning's return to work featured an astronomical event, as an eclipse of the sun greeted commuters across parts of Ireland. The partial eclipse was visible between 8.30am and 9.30am for those with a clear view of the north-eastern horizon, despite cloudy conditions obscuring the view of some.