A $440,000 research grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) Early Career Development Award Program has been awarded to a professor at New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) to build the brains of a solar telescope.
“With this grant, we hope to break ground for new discoveries in solar physics,” said Carsten Denker, Ph.D., an assistant professor of physics at NJIT. “Once the instruments are up and running, we will be able to analyze sunlight with greater sensitivity and accuracy than a solar telescope has ever been able to achieve.” In the past, solar activity has been difficult to track because it occurs rapidly and in small, hard-to-see regions of the sun.
The grant will enable Denker and his students to complete the development, construction and deployment of this telescopic equipment.
The new equipment includes an InfraRed Imaging Magnetograph (IRIM), which measures the magnetic fields on the surface of the sun, and a Real-Time Image Reconstruction (RTIR) system, which overcomes the image distortion caused by the turbulence of earth’s atmosphere.
This summer he and three New Jersey students will attach the new instruments to the telescope at Big Bear Solar Observatory (BBSO), Big Bear City, Calif. NJIT took over management of the noted solar observatory from California Institute of Technology in 1997.
Doctoral student Guo Yang, of Kearny helped build the equipment in the NJIT laboratory. “I believe that this laboratory presents an ideal environment to involve a student in a coordinated program of instrument construction and research," says Denker.
Doctoral student Na Deng, a resident of East Brunswick, and two undergraduate students, Estefany Quirola, of Newark, and Oswaldo Espinosa, of Garfield, will deliver the equipment this coming summer.
Such research efforts will allow NJIT researchers to provide the most accurate space weather forecasts. Government, military and commercial enterprises impacted by solar activity, want this information. Airline companies, telecommunications businesses, NASA and the U.S.Air Force all want short-term forecasts about solar storms. “These storms can adversely affect satellite usage, radio communication, human space flight and the electric power grid,” says Denker.
The latter is especially vulnerable to power outages during the most severe solar storms. For example, during the previous solar maximum in 1989, a solar storm caused damage to the power grid in Canada and the northeast United States. The storm left six million people in that region without power for more than nine hours.
The new equipment will also give researchers more information about solar activity covering a longer timeline. Such data especially interests global warming researchers.
“Solar activity peaks cyclically every eleven years,” says Denker. “Scientists believe that these cycles modulate the climate of earth. How much they affect the earth’s climate is at the root of the controversy surrounding global warming. That’s why we are all so excited to get this new telescopic equipment up and running.”
Denker has spent two years on the project, most of the work occurring in a new optical laboratory that he installed in the physics department at NJIT. The new laboratory features a computer with multiple processors, optical test equipment and the new optical instruments. The latter includes a unique tabletop collection of lenses, optical filters and cameras.
The equipment and laboratory are part of NJIT’s new Center for Solar-Terrestrial Research. Solar physicist Philip Goode, Ph.D., of Westfield, distinguished professor of physics at NJIT, directs the center. The center includes BBSO, also directed by Goode, and Owens Valley Solar Array (OVSA), directed by Dale Gary, Ph.D., of Berkeley Heights, professor of physics at NJIT. OVSA is a collection of radio antennas used by researchers to observe the sun and radio wave lengths. NJIT took over management of OVSA when it took over BBSO.
The Faculty Early Career Development Program at NSF recognizes and supports the early career-development activities of teacher-scholars who are most likely to become the academic leaders of the 21st century. Awardees are selected on the basis of creative, career-development plans that effectively integrate research and education within the context of the mission of their institution.