MSU Helped Design Solar Telescopes

By Beacon Staff

BOZEMAN – Solar physicists at Montana State University helped design four telescopes that are scheduled to be launched into space Tuesday from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

MSU research professor Piet Martens and associate research professor David McKenzie plan on being in Florida for the launch, scheduled for between 8:30 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. Mountain.

McKenzie and Martens helped design the ultraviolet telescopes with partners at the Lockheed Martin Solar and Astrophysics Laboratory and the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. They’ve been working on the project for about six years.

“It is the culmination of a long wait,” McKenzie said.

The telescopes, attached to a satellite, will spend about three years collecting ultraviolet images from the sun’s atmosphere to help scientists understand the physics behind the activity on the sun’s corona, which drives space weather.

The four telescopes — together called the Atmospheric Imaging Assembly — are one of three instrument packages that will be launched on the Solar Dynamics Observatory satellite, McKenzie said. Another will take pictures of the sun’s surface and the third will measure the UV radiation that comes from the sun to the Earth and variation sin the radiation.

The information will be transmitted to computers in the Midwest and sent to MSU, Stanford University and Lockheed Martin for analysis, McKenzie said.

The ultimate goal is to develop advanced forecasting tools.

Ultraviolet rays affect the chemistry of the Earth’s atmosphere, McKenzie said.

“We need to understand how it’s producing these activities that affect us,” he said.

Graduate student Jason Scott of Butte helped design and test the software that will operate the cameras on the telescopes. He plans to be in California from Feb. 15 to mid-March to work with Lockheed Martin scientists to see how the instruments are working an analyze initial data.

“It’s been a great experience,” he said.