SCIENTISTS from a Yorkshire university are working on a telescope so powerful it will be capable of studying an item no bigger than a pound coin from hundreds of miles away.
Experts from Sheffield are part of a team developing cameras for a super telescope which will provide new insights about the surface and atmosphere of the sun.
The device, which will be the biggest telescope in the world, will also improve forecasting of “space weather hazards.”
A consortium of universities, including Sheffield, are building cameras for the £344m ‘super telescope’ which will be based in Hawaii.
The Daniel K Inouye Solar Telescope (DKIST), which will be launched in 2019, is being constructed by the US National Solar Observatory on the Haleakala mountain in Maui.
With a four-metre diameter primary mirror, the telescope will be able to pick up unprecedented detail on the surface of the Sun.
Experts say it will be the equivalent of being able to examine a £1 coin from hundreds of miles away.
It is hoped the telescope will give scientists more information about the solar photosphere, chromosphere and corona – the different layers of the Sun’s atmosphere by taking high speed spectroscopic and magnetic measurements.
It is also hoped it will allow more advanced warning of solar winds approaching the Earth.
Professor Michail Balikhin from Sheffield University said: “The development of this telescope provides great potential for us to make earlier forecasts of space weather hazards, such as identifying solar winds which can cause huge disruption to life on Earth.
“Our Space System Laboratory in Sheffield has a well-established track record in space weather forecasting using a spacecraft situated about 1.5 million km from our planet.
“At the moment this enables us to identify space weather, such as solar wind velocities, approximately one hour before they reach Earth, but once this telescope is built we may be able to significantly extend this time.”
Dr Viktor Fedun from the University’s Solar Wave Theory Group added: “The new high-resolution cameras used by the telescope will provide an unprecedented amount of solar image data.
“Researchers at Sheffield will use their leading expertise in numerical modelling of plasma processes to develop new algorithms and numerical techniques to process the data observed from the new telescope which will be really impactful to the UK science community and beyond.”
Professor Robertus von Fay-Siebenburgen, Head of SP2RC ( The Solar Physics and Space Plasma Research Centre) at Sheffield University said: “This is a fantastic opportunity to significantly improve the forecasting of space weather.
“In 1996 a particularly large amount of energetic solar plasma material was ejected from the Sun towards the Earth, which damaged satellites and electrical transmission facilities, as well as caused disruption to communications systems.
“The understanding and prediction of space weather is vitally important in the age of human exploration of the Solar System and the development of this new telescope will enable us to predict space weather events much earlier. It’s also a great facility for early career scientists in the UK and will pave the way for Sheffield to remain at the forefront of solar plasma research.”