Skip to main content

World’s most powerful solar telescope begins science operations

Astronomers of the world will soon have an incredible new tool for observing the sun, in the form of the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope in Hawai’i. The Inouye Solar Telescope recently began its first science observations at the start of its year-long commissioning phase.

The telescope from the National Science Foundation (NSF) is named after the senator from Hawai’i who passed away in 2012 and is the world’s most powerful solar telescope. With it, astronomers will be able to observe the sun in more detail than ever before. “We are proud to bring the world’s largest and most powerful solar telescope online,” said NSF Director Dr. Sethuraman Panchanathan in a statement. “The 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.”

Inouye Solar Telescope with closed aperture near Haleakalā summit, Maui, HI.
Inouye Solar Telescope with closed aperture near Haleakalā summit, Maui, HI. National Solar Observatory (NSO), AURA, NSF

The telescope released its first light image in 2020, showing a close-up view of the enormous cell-like structures on the surface of the sun. To celebrate the first science observations, the team has released another image taken using the telescope in May 2021, showing a rather horrifying close-up view of sunspots on the sun’s surface.

High-resolution image of solar sunspots captured by the Inouye Solar Telescope.
A newly released high-resolution image of solar sunspots captured by the Inouye Solar Telescope on May 11, 2021 (not from the first science observation). The data leading to this image were acquired with the Visible Broadband Imager blue channel at a wavelength of 450 nanometers. National Solar Observatory (NSO), AURA, NSF

The construction of the telescope was controversial, as it is located on the Haleakalā volcano on the island of Maui, which is a site of spiritual significance to native Hawaiians. There were protests against its construction, along with the nearby Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT), but work on the Inouye Solar Telescope began in 2013.

The beginning of science operations had been delayed by 18 months due to covid, but now the telescope can begin taking high-resolution images of the sun and collecting data on phenomena like solar flares, sunspots, and coronal mass ejections.

“Taking the first science observations with the Inouye Solar Telescope marks an exciting moment for the solar science community,” said Dr. Thomas Rimmele, NSO Associate Director and lead of the Inouye Solar Telescope, “There is no other facility like the Inouye Solar Telescope. It is now the cornerstone of our mission to advance our knowledge of the Sun by providing forefront observational opportunities to the research community. It is a game-changer.”

Editors' Recommendations

Georgina Torbet
Georgina is the Digital Trends space writer, covering human space exploration, planetary science, and cosmology. She…
Watch SpaceX test fire the world’s most powerful rocket
watch spacex test fire the worlds most powerful rocket super heavy static

Starship Super Heavy Static Fire

SpaceX has performed a static fire test of its Super Heavy booster ahead of its second test flight.

Read more
Horrifying up-close images of a sunspot captured by the Inouye Solar Telescope
This image reveals the fine structures of a sunspot in the photosphere. Within the dark, central area of the sunspot’s umbra, small-scale bright dots, known as umbral dots, are seen. The elongated structures surrounding the umbra are visible as bright-headed strands known as penumbral filaments. Umbra: Dark, central region of a sunspot where the magnetic field is strongest. Penumbra: The brighter, surrounding region of a sunspot’s umbra characterized by bright filamentary structures.

A stunning new set of images from the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope shows the surface of the sun in incredible detail -- including frankly disturbing images of sunspots seen up close. The images have been collected over the telescope's first year of operations and have been shared as a preview of the data that can be expected from this tool.

Located in Maui, Hawai'i, the Inouye Solar Telescope is specifically designed to be able to look at the surface of the sun to learn about its magnetic fields, which are important for understanding the space weather which is caused by solar eruptions. The newly released images show calmer, quieter areas of the sun's surface and the deep black of sunspots, which are temporary dark regions that periodically appear on the surface, or photosphere.

Read more
SpaceX scrubs launch of world’s most powerful rocket due to valve issue
SpaceX's Starship rocket on the pad in Boca Chica, Texas.

The planned first test flight of the SpaceX Starship and Super Heavy rocket has been scrubbed. The launch of the world's most powerful rocket had been scheduled for today, Monday April 17, but was called off due to a frozen valve.

The decision was made to halt the countdown around 10 minutes before liftoff, turning the event today into a wet dress rehearsal instead of a test flight. That means the rocket was fueled and ready to launch, but did not actually leave the ground, and the countdown was halted around 40 seconds before liftoff. "A pressurant valve appears to be frozen, so unless it starts operating soon, no launch today," SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said on Twitter.

Read more