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Dr. Birgit Krummheuer

Presse- und Öffentlichkeitsarbeit
Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, Göttingen
Phone:+49 551 384979-462

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<p>Max Planck scientists use sophisticated monitoring methods and computer simulations to examine the sun’s corona.</p>

The Sun’s crowning glory

May 10, 2012

Max Planck scientists use sophisticated monitoring methods and computer simulations to examine the sun’s corona.

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The unfettered star

The Sun is the star from which we live. Ancient cultures were well aware of the close ties between the Earth and the glowing fireball in the sky. The Sun not only warms us and treats us to a romantic mood when it sets. On closer inspection, it reveals itself to be a seething star that provides a great deal of material for scientific investigation.

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Astronomy

<p>The observatory in the high-rise: Gregor is housed under a retractable dome on the roof of the building.<b> </b>The astronomers operate the telescope and scientific instruments from a control room on the third floor of the building. <b></b></p>
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The observatory in the high-rise: Gregor is housed under a retractable dome on the roof of the building. The astronomers operate the telescope and scientific instruments from a control room on the third floor of the building.

 

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The complex magnetic field is crucial to almost all processes in and on the bubbling ball of gas that is the sun. It is responsible for the energy balance of the outer layers of the atmosphere, it plays a role in the solar activity cycle (the occurrence of sunspots follows an eleven-year rhythm) and it produces most of the sometimes-spectacular visible phenomena: solar prominences, flares, coronal mass ejections and terrestrial auroras.

Researchers know, based on theoretical considerations and numerical calculations, that the interactions between the solar plasma and the magnetic field take place on very small spatial scales of approximately 70 kilometres on the sun. This is precisely the resolution achieved by GREGOR.

The telescope observes the sun in visible and infrared light. In doing so, it focuses on the photosphere – a thin layer of gas (roughly 300 km thick) which appears to us to be the surface of the sun. Researchers also want to examine the chromosphere, which lies above this layer. They hope that GREGOR will help them to gain a better understanding of the above-mentioned solar phenomena. Ultimately, these new findings should help to provide more accurate forecasts about eruptions of matter, which can pose a risk to satellites in space or electricity grids on earth.

GREGOR belongs to the Observatorio del Teide at the Instituto Astrofisica des Canarias (IAC). Although the telescope will be officially inaugurated on 21 May and will subsequently embark on its scientific work, it has already been through a baptism of fire: on 12 March 2009, GREGOR saw sunlight for the first time; at that time it was still fitted with a test mirror measuring one metre in diameter.

While the telescope at Teide in Tenerife is sure to shed light on solar physics in the coming years, it also has something to offer traditional astronomers: thanks to its outstanding optical and mechanical properties, they will be able to use GREGOR to examine sun-like stars in long series of measurements, something that is not possible with other night telescopes.

 
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