What if you’re not sure what to do in the midst of a solar storm?
Then a solar telescope could help.
A new project called PlanetViewer aims to gather and analyse data about the sun’s path through the solar system.
In its first six months, PlanetView, a collaboration between Google and MIT, has collected more than 1.2 terabytes of data, from satellites to the surface of Jupiter, and is currently analysing the data to map out how the sun changes over time.
PlanetViewer uses the same algorithm that scientists use to understand the structure of the sun.
“You could build an instrument to see how the surface changes, and you could also do a bit of modelling to see where that change might be in the solar wind,” explains David Wilcox, a professor of physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and one of the project’s creators.
“It’s an ambitious undertaking, and it’s just getting started.”
PlanetView, like other solar observatories, relies on the suns magnetic field to determine its position.
It uses an array of 12 small, radar-reflecting telescopes, each with a unique sensor to track the magnetic field.
Each instrument is about as big as a tennis ball, and each receives about a terabyte of data a year.
In the future, PlanetWatch will be able to monitor changes to the sun as the solar corona expands, causing its corona to change direction, or to move from side to side.
But, like any observational telescope, Planet Viewer is currently only a small part of what scientists need to understand what’s going on.
“We have to be doing a lot more, to get more detailed observations,” says Wilcox.
“We need to see the sun change, and we also need to learn how the corona moves.
This is going to be the main challenge in the future.”
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