Star Wars Telescope Used for Solar Study
With a telescope from the now defunct Star Wars
defense program, a balloon, and Antarctica's 24-hour sun, solar physicists
have launched the most detailed study ever of solar flares.
The NSF-funded Flare Genesis Experiment, led by David Rust from the Applied
Physics Laboratory of Johns Hopkins University, took round-the-clock images
of the Sun--a feat that is impossible from most places on Earth.
A flare is a magnetic disturbance that starts on the Sun's surface and then explodes,
shooting large numbers of electrically charged particles into space. The particles
can damage space craft, and they will endanger Mars-bound astronauts.
The Flare Genesis Experiment should show the minute changes in the Sun's magnetic
field during the flare buildup, Rust told Space News. Scientists may then
be able to use the data to identify solar flare warning signs.
The centerpiece of the experiment, an 80-centimeter telescope, was originally
built to detect missiles for a Star Wars project called Starlab. Rust acquired
the equipment simply by asking for it at the right time. He then converted it
for use as a balloon borne telescope. "It's perhaps the most complex balloon
package that's ever flown," he told Science News.
The balloon and telescope circumnavigated the globe over Antarctica last January,
floating above most of the atmosphere at 125,000 feet. The instruments recorded
over 14,000 images which are currently being analyzed.
Log on to Flare Genesis: http://hurlbut.jhuapl.edu:80/FlareGenesis/