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A new type of adaptive optics for solar observations has produced some incredible results, providing the most detailed image of a sunspot ever obtained in visible light. A new telescope built by the New Jersey Institute of Technology’s Big Bear Solar Observatory has seen its ‘first light’ using a deformable mirror, which is able to reduce atmospheric distortions. This is the first facility-class solar observatory built in more than a generation in the U.S.
The New Solar Telescope (NST) is located in the mountains east of Los Angeles. It has 97 actuators that make up the deformable mirror. By the summer of 2011, in collaboration with the National Solar Observatory, BBSO will have upgraded the current adaptive optics system to one utilizing a 349 actuator deformable mirror. The telescope has a 1.6 m clear aperture, with a resolution covering about 50 miles on the Sun’s surface.
The NST will be the pathfinder for an even larger ground-based telescope, the Advanced Technology Solar Telescope to be built over the next decade. Philip R. Goode from NJIT is leading a partnership with the National Solar Observatory (NSO) to develop a new and more sophisticated kind of adaptive optics, known as multi-conjugate adaptive optics. This new optical system will allow the researchers to increase the distortion-free field of view to allow for better ways to study these larger and puzzling areas of the Sun, and a 4-meter aperture telescope will be built in the next decade.