Checking Out the Sun's Surface with a Solar Telescope

sunrise telescope

Scientists are planning to send a balloon-borne solar telescope on expeditions in the polar regions to gather an unprecedented amount of data on the sun's surface. Following a successful test flight earlier this month during which the telescope - dubbed "Sunrise" - was launched to an altitude of 120,000 ft (with the help of a balloon larger than a Boeing 757 jumbo jet), NCAR and a team of researchers are laying down the details for what will be several long, polar balloon flights starting in 2009.

The balloon flew about 10 hours during the test flight, deploying an array of sophisticated equipment to capture images of the sun's surface along with a gamut of other data. The scientists, led by NCAR's Michael Knölker, are hoping to use it to study the structure and dynamics of the sun's magnetic fields, which fuel its activity, affect telecommunications and power systems and could play a role in influencing climate change by causing variations in solar radiation.

sunrise balloon
When it officially takes off from Kiruna, Sweden, in the summer of 2009, the telescope will snap a continuous set of images for a period of several days to weeks. It will climb high enough to rise above the atmosphere's turbulence, UV-absorbing water vapor and ozone layer - allowing for the viewing of more stable, higher resolution pictures.

"This unique research project will enable us to view features of the Sun that we've never seen before. We hope to unlock important mysteries about the Sun's magnetic field structures, which at times can cause electromagnetic storms in our upper atmosphere and may have an impact on Earth's climate," said Knölker.

Could this be the beginning of a new age of space flights?

Via ::UCAR: Solar Telescope Reaches 120,000 Feet on Jumbo-Jet-Sized Balloon (news release)

See also: ::Solar Decathlon 2007: Maryland's LEAFHouse, ::Super-Thin Solar Cells Developed for Nanoelectronics

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