[New version: adds a paragraph about the connection of the Geophysical and Astronomical Observatory of the University of Coimbra to the European Solar Telescope.]
Portugal Space will be joining the Board of Director of the European Solar Telescope. The new infrastructure involves 30 institutions from 18 countries and will be fundamental to help Europe to transform our understanding of the complex phenomena that drive the solar magnetic activity.
The Portuguese Space Agency – Portugal Space will be the national representative in the international consortium that will design and deploy the largest solar telescope ever built in Europe. The European Solar Telescope (EST) project will be fully conducted by the European Association for Solar Telescopes (EAST), which will develop, construct and operate the infrastructure.
The project, that aims to design and construct a class 4 meter solar telescope, involves more than 30 institutions from 18 countries, under the coordination of the Canary Islands Astrophysics Institute (IAC). The deployment of EST will be crucial to understand the solar magnetic activity, and the impact of solar winds and storms on Earth.
Being considered a strategic facility at the European level, the EST is part of the European Strategy Forum for Research Infrastructures (ESFRI) since 2016, where FCT (Foundation for Science and Technology) represents Portugal. Moving forward, “Portugal Space and FCT will work closely together strengthening the ties of the two organisations to beyond their current common efforts for ESA and ESO”, states Chiara Manfletti, Portugal Space’s president.
The Board of Directors of EST, which is the central decision-making body of the international consortium that is putting the telescope in place, will meet for the first time in the coming weeks.
According to Chiara Manfletti, “being engaged in a project what will be a cornerstone of the European ground-based astronomy is fundamental to the development of, not only European, but also the Portuguese expertise in this science field”.
The Portuguese contribute
Portugal Space will team up with the University of Coimbra, which was the first Portuguese institution to join the European Association for Solar Telescopes (EAST) at the beginning of 2019. A team based at OGAUC – Geophysical and Astronomical Observatory of the University of Coimbra has been working on raising awareness for the need to strengthen the Portuguese community of solar astrophysicists. “We want to take advantage of EST to develop a solid scientific community focused on solar science and the importance of space weather”, says João Fernandes (DMUC/CITEUC) member of that team.
The EAST has the goal to ensure access of European solar astronomers to world-class high-resolution ground-based observing facilities, being the EST the priority infrastructure of this strategy. The association also coordinates the operation and scientific use of existing high-resolution optical solar telescopes on the ground in Europe.
The board of directors that Portugal is now entering will be the main advisory body to the EAST. This means that, as Member of EST, Portugal has been called to participate in the preparatory phase of the project, that will test the scientific concept and its practicability. During this phase (PRE-EST), scheduled to finish by the end of 2020, the EST international consortium and the funding agencies will draw a detailed plan regarding the implementation of the infrastructure.
As Member of EST, Portugal has been called to participate in the preparatory phase of the project, that will test the scientific concept and its practicability. During this phase (PRE-EST), scheduled to finish by the end of 2020, the EST international consortium and the funding agencies will draw a detailed plan regarding the implementation of the infrastructure.
The science behind the European Solar Telescope
The European Solar Telescope will be installed at the Observatories in the Canary Islands, and is expected to be operational in 2027, taking about six years to be completed. With a 4-m primary mirror and the most advanced technology available, the EST will provide solar physicists with the most advanced state-of-the-art observing instruments to transform our understanding of the complex phenomena that drive the solar magnetic activity.
The creation of EST intends to fill a gap not covered by any other tools, either ground or space-based. The project will be able to examine magnetic coupling in the solar atmosphere from the deepest layers of the photosphere to the highest strata of the chromosphere. It can also reveal the thermal, dynamic and magnetic attributes of the Sun’s plasma at high spatial and temporal resolution.
As with ESA’ mission Solar Orbit, launched last February, and Parker Solar Probe by NASA, the EST will not only be crucial to the development of fundamental scientific advancement but will also have an essential contribution to the field of Space Weather.
Portugal Space’s president emphasizes that “the observations made from the Canary Islands will be complementary to those made by Solar Orbiter, ESA’s mission which already has Portuguese technology”.
Studying and exploring the different components of Sun’s activity will help us to better understand our Sun and through this knowledge help us to predict, adapt and minimise the impacts of the so-called solar storms, which can produce incalculable losses on Earth.
The solar wind, a constant flow of electrically charged particles that the Sun projects into the heliosphere and that reaches speeds of 800 kilometres per second, is one of the main objects of observation of Solar Orbiter. This ESA mission will also focus on analysing extraordinary events such as solar eruptions and coronal mass ejections (significant eruptions of ionised gas at high temperature from the Sun’s corona). Such episodes can have a substantial impact on life on Earth, as they might reach sensitive electrical systems, disrupting satellite communications, global navigation satellite systems (GNSS), and in severe cases causing the failure of power grids at national or international scales.