Research News

Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope starts year-long science commissioning phase

March 22, 2022

Earth's most powerful solar telescope begins scientific observations and ushers in a new age of solar science

The U.S. National Science Foundation's Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope has begun its year-long operations commissioning phase, during which the telescope will be gradually brought online. The Inouye Solar Telescope will capture high-resolution images of the sun and measure the magnetic fields of solar phenomena that influence space weather, including sunspots, solar flares and coronal mass ejections.

The milestone mission will allow astronomers to observe the sun in unprecedented detail and advance scientific understanding of the sun, space weather and its impacts on Earth.

"We are proud to bring the world's largest and most powerful solar telescope online," said NSF Director Sethuraman Panchanathan. "NSF's Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope is a modern technological marvel, named in honor of late Senator Inouye, an American hero and leader dedicated to scientific research and discovery."

The Inouye Solar Telescope has the most advanced ground-based solar astronomy tools and can capture images of the sun in very high detail. The facility, located on the summit of Haleakala, Maui, Hawai'i, is positioned to enable observations of the elusive solar corona.

"The Inouye Solar Telescope team remained committed to developing an innovative solar telescope that pushed the frontiers of new technology,” said David Boboltz, a program director in NSF’s Division of Astronomical Sciences. “From design through construction, the researchers overcame many challenges to realize a world-class facility poised to deliver on its transformational potential for all humankind."

Space weather events caused by solar activity can disrupt or disable power grids, communication networks and other technology infrastructure with potentially catastrophic outcomes. Observations and data from the telescope will offer more profound insights into the underlying solar physics that drive space weather, which could lead to more accurate space weather prediction and improved preparedness.

The first science experiment conducted with the Inouye Solar Telescope measured electric fields during a phenomenon known as magnetic reconnection -- a process where solar magnetic fields reconfigure and expel plasma jets from the solar atmosphere. Observations from the telescope's instruments are allowing scientists to understand this elusive phenomenon for the first time.

The Inouye Data Center, located at the headquarters of NSF's National Solar Observatory in Boulder, Colorado, will calibrate, curate, store and disseminate the data from the telescope to astronomers and the public.