China has completed the construction of the world’s largest telescopic network on the edge of the Tibetan Plateau. The country plans to point it at our Sun as part of what one expert calls “the golden age of solar astronomy.”
As reported previously in the journal Nature, the Daocheng Solar Radio Telescope (DSRT) costs 100 million yuan ($14 million) and consists of more than 300 antennas arranged in a circle with a diameter of 3 km. Initial tests will begin in June 2024 and will focus on future increases in solar activity over the next few years, particularly how solar flares affect Earth.
The ground-based DSRT joins NASA’s Parker Solar Probe and the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Solar Orbiter, launched in 2018 and 2020, respectively, in ongoing efforts to study the complex processes taking place on the Sun.
Radio telescopes such as DSRT are particularly useful for studying activity in the upper solar atmosphere, or corona, such as solar flares. Another solar weather event, a coronal mass ejection (CME), involves eruptions of hot plasma that release high-energy particles that can then travel to Earth. This radiation often damages power grids and satellites, as happened in February 2022 when a solar storm knocked 40 Starlink satellites out of orbit.
“China now has instruments that can observe all levels of the Sun, from its surface to the outermost atmosphere,” says Hui Tian, a solar physicist at Peking University in Beijing, told Nature in an interview.
Compared to similar telescope arrays, the DSRT will be more finely tuned and therefore potentially pick up weaker signals from high-energy particles emitted during coronal mass ejection events.