China to build the world's largest telescope array to study explosions on the Sun

It's part of a wider project aimed at investigating dangerous solar eruptions.
Chris Young
Solar Radio Telescope under construction in Sichuan.
Solar Radio Telescope under construction in Sichuan.

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China is building the world's largest array of telescopes designed to study the Sun, a report from the South China Morning Post (SCMP) reveals.

The array, called the Daocheng Solar Radio Telescope (DSRT), will help scientists better understand coronal mass ejections — massive solar eruptions that have the potential to knock out the world's internet and disrupt global satellite services.

A massive 313-dish telescope array

The DSRT is currently under construction on a plateau in the Sichuan province, southwest China. Once finished, the massive telescope array will have a circumference of 1.95 miles (3.14 kilometers), with a total of 313 dishes, each with a diameter of 19.7 feet (6 meters). The telescope array will observe the Sun in radio waves.

Coronal mass ejections (CMEs) are massive expulsions of plasma and magnetic fields from the Sun's surface, the corona. They send highly-charged particles in waves out towards the outer Solar System. The Earth's magnetic field generally protects us from these solar flares, but particularly strong CMEs have the potential to knock out electrical equipment, including internet infrastructure and satellites. The Sun is currently in the active phase of its 11-year solar cycle, meaning there is a higher likelihood of large CMEs occurring.

In 1989, for example, a solar storm was responsible for cutting the electrical supply of over 6 million people in and around Québec for nine hours. It even halted the Toronto Stock Exchange for three hours by disrupting what was supposed to be a "fault-tolerant" computer.

An assistant professor from the University of California, Irvine, Sangeetha Abdu Jyothi, recently warned that we are now much more heavily reliant on electrical infrastructure than before, and a similar outage affecting global internet infrastructure could cost $7.2 billion per day.

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China's new project will analyze the Sun

The SCMP reports that the construction of the DSRT is currently on schedule to finish this year. As per, the development of the telescope array is part of China's wider plans for a ground-based space environment monitoring network called the Chinese Meridian Project.

The project is also developing a separate array, the Chinese Spectral Radioheliograph, that is also designed to monitor solar activity. It will be comprised of 100 dishes in a three-arm spiral arrangement, and it will study solar activity in a wider band of frequencies than the DSRT.

The Chinese Meridian Project is led by the National Space Science Center (NSSC) of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, which aims to operate approximately 300 instruments across China. It collaborates with more than 10 universities and research organizations in China.

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