Hardware integration of world's largest solar telescope array completed

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A solar telescope array in southwest China, the largest of its kind in the world, is projected to start its trial operation of examining the sun in June 2023.

The Daocheng Solar Radio Telescope (DSRT), part of the country's phase-2 Meridian Project, saw completion of its hardware integration this past Sunday when engineers mounted the array's last antenna along a circle with a diameter of one kilometer.

Sitting on the edge of the country's Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau, which is more than 3,800 meters above sea level, and bordering on an Old Stone Age site, the solar radio imaging telescope is composed of 313 six-meter-wide parabolic antennas encircling a 100-meters-high calibration tower in the center.

Its sunflower-like, swivelling antennas are designed to follow the sun in a bid to study solar eruptions and how they affect conditions around Earth.

"Solar eruptions can be understood as sneezes of the sun," said Wu Lin, a designer of DSRT from the National Space Science Center under the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

The timing and direction of solar sneezes -- which carry high-energy particles -- are unpredictable, and they may cripple telecommunication on Earth, Wu added.

"Those high-energy particles might downgrade the resolution of China's BeiDou Navigation Satellite System from centimeter-level to 100-meter-level, and even cause blackouts by burning up the power grid," said Wu.

In 2008, China launched the Meridian Project, a monitoring network comprising ground-based stations, to investigate weather in space and understand the processes behind these catastrophic events.

The space weather forecast is made possible since the erupted particles take dozens of hours to reach our planet, while the electromagnetic radiation they send out at varying distances from the solar surface -- running as fast as light -- are much quicker messengers, according to Wu.

Therefore, to capture and analyze radio signals at the early stage of solar eruptions can help monitor and predict the solar weather, said Wu.

Working in collaboration, the 313 sun-gazers will form a huge, virtual telescope at the frequency range from 150 to 450 megahertz to achieve high-precision imaging of solar events.

Also, its advantageous location -- with the Himalayas serving to protect the telescope from some atmospheric turbulences and thus ensuring a clear sky -- allows it to spot weaker signals emitting from the sun.

During the past two years, China has stepped up its solar exploration endeavor. It launched the satellite Xihe in October 2021 to capture the solar Hα spectral line, which can directly reflect the characteristics of solar eruptions.

In October this year, the Advanced Space-based Solar Observatory (ASO-S) or Kuafu-1 was sent into space to study the solar magnetic field, solar flares and coronal mass ejections, thus providing data support for space weather forecasting. 

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