Antarctica: Tor Vergata researchers at work to install the MOTH II solar telescope
Work is ongoing in Antarctica for the installation of the Italian next-generation solar telescope MOTH II.
Since the beginning of January, Francesco Berrilli and Stefano Scardigli, respectively professor and postdoc researcher at Tor Vergata University of Rome, have been working at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station in Antarctica.
The instrument that the Italian physicists have to put into operation will be used to carry out astrophysics research in the field of gravity waves in the solar atmosphere and in space meteorology. The Italian researchers take part in this scientific venture together with colleagues from the University of Hawaii, the Georgia State University, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and the European Space Agency.
Funded by the National Science Foundation and coordinated by Stuart Jefferies, a Professor at the Georgia State University, the project is supported by the PRIN 2012 of the Ministry of Education, University and Research (MIUR). The project has a duration of three years and will continue with the Antarctic campaigns 2017-18 and 2018-19.
But why install a solar telescope in the ice desert of the White Continent? “The South Pole, with areas that are about 3,000 meters above sea level, is a privileged place for solar observation where it is possible to observe the star for months during the austral summer, with virtually uninterrupted measurements and extraordinary atmospheric stability and clear skies”, explained Francesco Berrilli.
These important advantages, however, have costs. “To maintain these conditions favourable, the telescope needs to be set up outside the control room, located under the ice, not to generate turbulence in the atmosphere, at perceived temperatures of -35°C /-40°C”, added the Professor.
Italy is at the forefront of the project. The telescope ‒ consisting of two channels operating in the sodium and potassium lines ‒ has an Italian heart, based on magneto-optical filters for solar applications developed in the 1990s by a team from the Department of Physics of Sapienza University of Rome, at that time coordinated by Alessandro Cacciani. The two channels allow the simultaneous observation of the solar plasma velocity fields and magnetic field at two heights of the photospheric/chromospheric region of the Sun’s atmosphere.
The images, captured at high frequency and virtually without interruption, will enable the analysis of the dynamics of the plasma and the magnetic field with unprecedented time resolutions, opening the way for new prediction algorithms of solar events, such as flares, and for new analysis tools in astrophysics with important applications in the field of space meteorology.