UH scientists receive
$2 million to study
sun’s activities

The team is researching
events that affect Earth
communication systems

By Helen Altonn

University of Hawaii solar astronomers have received nearly $2 million to study the sun and "space weather" from Haleakala for better understanding of activities that affect Earth.

University of Hawaii

"In these times of declining state funding and stiff competition for federal grants, these awards are critical for the survival of our research program on Haleakala," said Jeff Kuhn, head of the Institute for Astronomy's Maui Science Division.

The National Aeronautic and Space Administration, Air Force Office of Scientific Research and National Science Foundation awarded the grants for studies of the solar magnetosphere, the origins of "space weather" and observations of local environments of nearby stars.

Kuhn said the UH solar team is involved in research on Maui "to try to do a better job of predicting wind activity on the sun," which can cause radio interference and other effects on Earth.

The Air Force particularly is concerned about communications and the safety of spacecraft surveillance systems and is supporting a big program to investigate such problems, Kuhn said.

The UH is one of nine institutions participating in a solar project to study magnetic eruptions on the sun and their effects on Earth's space environment.

The institutions will depend on data collected from Haleakala for their studies, Kuhn said.

"A big part of our effort is generating measurements of the input into the space environment from the sun," he said. "We know the space environment is kind of like the weather environment on Earth."

"The earth is continually being buffeted by particles and energy from the sun that fluctuate. It's kind of like the fluctuation we see in the weather," he said, with constant and often chaotic changes.

The solar magnetic fields cause all the changes in one way or another, but solar physicists cannot measure them, Kuhn said.

"It is very difficult to measure the outside surface of the sun, so we're trying to devise techniques for measuring the magnetic fields in the space environment."

The NASA money will be used to study the solar magnetic field from the astronomy institute's Mees Observatory and a new type of telescope, an off-axis coronagraph, designed and built by the Institute for Astronomy team.

A new program on Haleakala will explore the sun's corona, or outer atmosphere, in addition to continuing studies of the causes of sunspots and solar storms, or "flares."

Kuhn said the first operation with the new telescope began a few months ago next to Mees.

The National Science Foundation grant will allow the scientists to use an instrument built by the astronomy institute for the Advanced Electro-Optical Space Telescope to hunt for clues to the origin of planetary systems around other nearby stars.

The solar scientists are hoping the Legislature will approve a capital expenditure request to build a modern laboratory to replace an old Kula farmhouse they have been using for research activities on Maui.

A new laboratory would allow the scientists to do some of the design work on Maui that is now being done at the astronomy institute laboratory in Manoa, and it would improve the program's chances of competing for available research money, Kuhn said.

With increasingly tough competition for federal resources, Kuhn said the new awards from three federal research organizations "are a gratifying endorsement of the quality and breadth of the personnel and research programs on Maui."

Kuhn said the group is working hard to bring to Hawaii the Advanced Technology Solar Telescope, sponsored by the National Solar Observatory.

"There really is only one place in the world where this telescope should be built," he said.

"We would like to convince folks on Maui that this could be done unobtrusively because it would bring probably between 20 and 60 families and scientists into the islands in a project which is probably an $85 million research facility."

The astronomy institute's new telescope just launched on Haleakala to measure space weather is a prototype of the proposed national telescope, which will be much larger, Kuhn said.

UH Institute for Astronomy
NOAA Space Weather Page

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