Philip R. Goode, PhD, distinguished professor of physics at NJIT and director of Big Bear Solar Observatory (BBSO) in California, has received a three-year, $2.4 million National Science Foundation (NSF) grant to improve the optics at BBSO.
The effort will eliminate the effects of the Earth’s atmospheric distortion over a wide field of view on the Sun. Other telescopes with adaptive optics currently have the capabilities to fully correct a small region in that field of view. However, doing so leaves areas further away from the small region even more poorly corrected. For solar telescopes, one must correct the full field to optimally study large phenomena on the Sun, such as sunspots.
“In the past, we could fully resolve only a small portion of a sunspot using the best of adaptive optics for a high-resolution solar telescope,” said Goode. “Now, our 1.6 meter off-axis, solar telescope at Big Bear, featuring the world’s largest aperture and three times the resolution of the one it replaced, allows us to have more ambitious goals.”
Since 1997, under Goode’s direction, NJIT has owned and operated BBSO, located high above a clear mountain lake. Last fall, the new solar telescope, with support from NSF, AFOSR, NASA and NJIT, began operation.
The instrument will be the pathfinder for an even larger ground-based telescope, the Advanced Technology Solar Telescope (ATST), to be built over the next decade. NJIT is an ATST co-principal investigator on this NSF project. The grant will allow Goode and his partners from the National Solar Observatory (NSO) to develop a new and more sophisticated kind of adaptive optics, known as multi-conjugate adaptive optics (MCAO). The new optical system will allow the researchers to increase the distortion-free field of view to allow for better ways to study these larger and puzzling areas of the sun. MCAO on the NST will be a pathfinder for the optical system of NSO’s 4-meter aperture ATST coming later in the decade.
Scientists believe sunspots hold an important key to understanding space weather. Space weather, which originates in the Sun, can have dire consequences on Earth's climate and environment. A bad storm can disrupt power grids and communication, destroy satellites and even expose airline pilots, crew and passengers to radiation.
The new telescope already feeds a high-order adaptive optics system, which in turn feeds the next generation of technologies for measuring magnetic fields and dynamic events using visible and infrared light. A parallel computer system for real-time image enhancement highlights it.
Goode and BBSO scientists have studied solar magnetic fields for many years. They are expert at combining BBSO ground-based data with satellite data to determine dynamic properties of the solar magnetic fields.