A solar telescope that has the potential to give scientists the ability to predict the Sun's impact on satellite and communication systems on Earth will be the biggest in the world when it opens in 2019. Sharon Reich reports.
STORY: When its complete, this solar telescope will be the largest in the world. And it'll give scientists a chance to study the sun in unprecedented detail, and predict its impact on satellites, cell phones and communication on Earth. It's called DKIST for short and is being built on top of the highest crater in Maui. With an advanced optical system and a four meter primary mirror, Thomas Rimmele, the project director, says it'll be the equivalent of an astrophysics laboratory - helping scientists see exactly what's happening on the surface of the sun each day. (SOUNDBITE) (English) FORMER PROJECT SCIENTIST AND CURRENT PROJECT DIRECTOR OF DKI SOLAR TELESCOPE, THOMAS RIMMELE, SAYING: "You really have to understand these fundamental physical processes to eventually be able to forecast the space weather events, at this point we really do not understand those well enough to be able to develop predictive capabilities such as we have here on Earth predicting the weather." The space weather he's referring to are solar flares and coronal mass ejections (CMEs) of the sun, which currently are only visible during solar eclipses. One of the features that gives the telescope such precision is that it rotates less than the diameter of a hair - to compensate for rotation of the solar image over the course of a day. That's important says Joseph McMullin, the observatory project manager, because right now scientists have no way to confirm if their current assumptions are accurate. (SOUNDBITE) (English) PROJECT MANAGER FOR THE CONSTRUCTION OF THE DKI SOLAR TELESCOPE, JOSEPH MCMULLIN, SAYING: "Theorists right now have a number of different models where they're predicting behavior that we're not actually able to confirm or check so this observatory will provide those fine resolution details to be able to match up with these different theoretical models and actually allow us to understand the physics of magnetic fields and how they transmit and percolate through the layers of the solar atmosphere." The team hope that when the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope begins official operations in 2019, it'll give us a new spin on theories about the sun.