New Jersey Institute of Technology professor Philip R. Goode and his team of researchers have achieved “first light,” capturing the most detailed photograph of a sunspot ever taken.
The image was made using a 1.6m clear aperture on an off-axis New Solar Telescope (NST) at the Big Bear Solar Observatory in California. The telescope used is the largest of its kind and has a resolution capable of covering 50 miles of the Sun’s surface.
Goode and his team used a 97-actuator deformable mirror—in what is called adaptive optics—to correct distortion resulting from photographing through the atmosphere. By summer 2011, the team plans to upgrade the deformable mirror to allow for even clearer images.
The New Solar Telescope is also being used as a “pathfinder” for an ongoing project to develop a far more powerful telescope known as the Advanced Technology Solar Telescope (ATST), set for construction over the next decade.
Images like the one captured by the NST are important to researchers because they provide valuable data on magnetic structures like sunspots, which are often a key factor in space weather—a phenomenon that can disrupt power-grids on earth, destroy satellites, or even bombard air-travelers with unsafe levels of radiation.
The photo was originally published on the science website “Ciel et l’Espace” as their photo of the day.