Observing Solar Flares

Dale Gary
Dr. Dale Gary is leading the design study for the Frequency Agile Solar Radiotelescope.

A better understanding of the solar flares that can interfere with wireless communication and damage satellites in Earth's orbit is the focus of research by Dale Gary, professor of physics. A specialist in radio solar physics, he is leading a design study for the Frequency Agile Solar Radiotelescope (FASR). The project, supported by the National Science Foundation, will construct a new radio telescope capable of making high-resolution images of the solar corona. The telescope, which will consist of 100 receiving dishes, will allow scientists to make direct measurements of the coronal magnetic fields. (See rendering, below right.)

FASR will allow researchers to study the birth of coronal mass ejections, violent phenomena associated with the Sun's magnetic fields that can cause sudden, intense fluctuations in the solar wind and serious consequences on Earth. The high-energy particles that characterize these ejections have the potential to destroy satellites. The satellites in turn may impact television viewing, pagers, cellular phones and other wireless devices. With the ability to observe these phenomena, especially those on the near face of the sun that most affect Earth, researchers will be able to provide better information on the space environment to airlines, power companies and satellite operators. Eventually, solar researchers may be able to predict the severity of such incidents and when they will occur.

The FASR study is a joint project of NJIT, the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO), University of Maryland and the University of California at Berkeley. The project was recently ranked number one in importance by the influential NRC Solar and Space Physics Survey Committee of the National Academy of Sciences.