A team of Chinese scientists has completed what is now the world’s largest telescopic array.
Situated on the very edge of the Tibetan Plateau, researchers aim to direct the massive lens at the sun for several years, ushering in what one Chinese official calls the “golden age of solar astronomy”.
The Daocheng Solar Radio Telescope’s (DSRT) mission is to monitor the sun’s activity, particularly on how solar flares and eruptions affect Earth and humanity, as first reported in the peer-reviewed science journal, Nature.
Construction of the estimated $14 million observatory officially ended in November 2022, with initial testing to commence in June, according to Popular Science.
Headed by the National Space Science Center (NSSC) and including more than ten academic institutions, the massive facility consists of more than 300 dish-shaped antennas that form a circle more than three kilometres in circumference.
DSRT will aid scientists study phenomena like solar flares or coronal mass ejections (CME) in the sun’s upper atmosphere. In the past, astronomers identified CMEs as potentially mass-extinction events and have poured resources into understanding them better.
CMEs occur when the sun’s magnetic field experiences a disruption, causing expulsions of red hot plasma from its surface.
These high-energy bursts of particles and radiation can be catastrophic if directed toward Earth. Space weather events like these can knock out satellites and disrupt our electrical grid.
Earlier this year, a relatively mild CME destroyed 40 satellites belonging to Elon Musk’s Starlink.
Data from the event indicated the satellites encountered a severe geomagnetic storm that increased the drag experienced by each craft by 50%, causing catastrophic failures just a few days after they had entered low orbit.
Observatories like DSRT, the NASA-developed Parker Solar Probe, and the European Space Agency’s Solar Orbiter, all operational since 2018, had thrust humanity into a new era of solar astronomy, said Maria Kazachenko, a solar physicist working out of the University of Boulder, Colorado.
The sun is entering a two-year period of intense activity which means scientists at DSRT can gather large amounts of data that may prove invaluable, according to Hui Tian of Peking University.
Solar activities recorded in Chinese time zones would not be picked up by observatories halfway across the world, according to fellow academic, Ding Mingde, representing Nanjing University.
To remedy this, he encouraged working with international scientists, saying solar research required collaboration at a global scale.