World’s Most Powerful Solar Telescope Reaches Historic Milestone as First Science Observations Commence
On Wednesday, February 23, 2022, the U.S. National Science Foundation’s (NSF’s) Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope (Inouye Solar Telescope) commenced its first science observations, signaling the start of its year-long operations commissioning phase and a new era of solar science. Over 25 years in the making, the world’s most powerful solar telescope is now poised to revolutionize our understanding of the Sun and its impacts on Earth.
“We are proud to bring the world’s largest and most powerful solar telescope online,” said Dr. Sethuraman Panchanathan, NSF Director. “The NSF’s Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope is a modern technological marvel, named in honor of late Senator Inouye, an American hero and leader dedicated to scientific research and discovery.”
Hailed as the “crowning achievement” for ground-based solar astronomy, the Inouye Solar Telescope utilizes the next generation of solar observing instruments capable of capturing images of the Sun in unprecedented detail. The facility operates at 10,000 ft above sea level near the summit of Haleakalā on Maui, Hawai‘i, where unique environmental conditions enable observations of the elusive solar corona. The telescope’s operational phase is a long-awaited accomplishment, marking the end of a construction phase bookended by groundbreaking in 2012 and an 18-month delay caused by the COVID-19 global pandemic.
“The Inouye Solar Telescope team remained committed to developing an innovative solar telescope that pushed the frontiers of new technology. From design through construction, they overcame many challenges to realize a world-class facility poised to deliver on its transformational potential for all of humankind,” said Dr. David Boboltz, Program Director in NSF’s Division of Astronomical Sciences.
The Inouye Solar Telescope will take high-resolution images and make measurements of the magnetic fields of solar phenomena including sunspots, solar flares, and coronal mass ejections. Solar activity drives space weather events that can impact Earth by disrupting power grids, communication networks, and other technology we depend on. The Inouye Solar Telescope, in concert with other advanced observatories, will provide greater insight into space weather behavior to aid in developing the means of predicting such events.
“Taking the first science observations with the Inouye Solar Telescope marks an exciting moment for the solar science community,” commented Dr. Thomas Rimmele, NSO Associate Director and lead of the Inouye Solar Telescope, “There is no other facility like the Inouye Solar Telescope. It is now the cornerstone of our mission to advance our knowledge of the Sun by providing forefront observational opportunities to the research community. It is a game changer.”