The astronomical community has a new tool for studying the sun with the opening this week of the world’s largest solar telescope. The Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope, located in Maui, Hawaii, has a 13-foot (4-meter) primary mirror that allows it to see the sun in phenomenal detail.
To celebrate the telescope’s opening on August 31, 2022, the National Science Foundation (NSF) this week released a new image of the solar chromosphere. This is the part of the sun’s atmosphere that is just above its surface, and the image shows a region 50,000 miles wide where temperatures can reach 13,000 degrees Fahrenheit.
“NSF’s Inouye Solar Telescope is the world’s most powerful solar telescope, which will forever change the way we study and understand our sun,” said NSF Director Sethuraman Panchanathan in statement regarding the discovery. “His insights will change the way our nation and planet predict and prepare for events like solar storms.”
The telescope’s construction was a source of controversy because of its location atop the Haleakala volcano, a sacred site for many native Hawaiians. In 2015 and 2017, there were protests over the use of this sacred land to build telescopes, similar to the objections that led to protested the construction of the planned thirty meter telescope at Mauna Kea.
Continuing with the construction of the Inouye Telescope, the telescope management emphasized its debt to the people of Hawaii, including naming the telescope after former Hawaii Senator Daniel Inouye and forming a special task force with Hawaiian leaders to make compromises such as building an area to hold religious ceremonies at the summit . Some, but not allopponents of the construction are pleased with these efforts.
Representatives from both the scientific and Native Hawaiian communities attended the unveiling to mark the completion of the telescope’s year-long commissioning phase. The Inouye Solar Telescope is operated by the National Solar Observatory, a research center led by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA) with a cooperative agreement with NSF’s Division of Astronomical Sciences.
“With the world’s largest solar telescope now in scientific operations, we are grateful to everyone who makes this remarkable facility possible,” said Matt Mountain, president of AURA. “In particular, we thank the people of Hawaii for the privilege of operating from this remarkable location, the National Science Foundation and the US Congress for their consistent support, and our Inouye Solar Telescope team, many of whom have dedicated a decade of tireless dedication to this transformational project. A new era of solar physics begins!’