In a pioneering stride towards gaining deeper understanding of the sun and its impact on space weather, a consortium of seven European countries is gearing up to begin construction of the European Solar Telescope (EST) – a behemoth in the world of solar telescopes. This multinational venture includes prominent research institutions from the Czech Republic, Germany, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom, all pooling their resources to manifest this landmark project.
To facilitate the transition from the drawing board to reality, these nations have collectively established the EST Foundation on Tuesday. This newly formed body will guide the project into the next crucial phase of development and oversee the creation of the European Research Infrastructure Consortium (ERIC). As the authorized legal entity, ERIC will manage the comprehensive supervision of the EST’s construction, from inception to operation.
The European Solar Telescope, as it has been envisaged, is a state-of-the-art solar observatory. At its heart, a colossal 4.2-metre primary mirror will capture precise, high-resolution images of the sun. The telescope’s large aperture design is a testament to its overarching objective – to illuminate the intricacies of the sun’s magnetic fields with an unprecedented level of detail.
This marvel of engineering will probe into the magnetic and dynamic coupling of the solar atmosphere, and observe the complex interactions taking place between the sun’s diverse atmospheric layers. What sets the EST apart is its capacity to simultaneously observe across multiple wavelengths, which enhances its efficiency beyond the reach of any existing solar telescope.
In doing so, the EST is predicted to uncover priceless knowledge about the mechanisms underpinning solar flares and coronal mass ejections. These naturally occurring phenomena influence what we term as ‘space weather’, which in turn, has significant implications on a myriad of technologies, including satellite navigation, power grid operations, and broadcasting systems.
“The EST, set to be the largest ground-based solar telescope built in Europe, will propel its European partners to the leading edge of solar physics research,” stated Professor Robertus von Fay-Siebenburgen from the University of Sheffield, one of the institutions partaking in the venture. He went on to add, “This unrivalled research infrastructure will equip European astronomers and plasma-astrophysicists with an unparalleled tool for studying the sun and its space weather. Such a tool will undoubtedly catalyse scientific breakthroughs addressing some of the world’s most pressing challenges, such as the pursuit of green fusion energy.”
Following the successful completion of the telescope’s preliminary design phase, funded by the Horizon 2020 programme, the EST Foundation has laid the groundwork for the anticipated six-year-long construction process. Expected to commence operations between 2028 and 2029, the European Solar Telescope will find its home in the Roque de los Muchachos Observatory, nestled in the beautiful landscape of La Palma, Spain.