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The Netherlands is going to monitor eruptions on the sun

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ASTRON (Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy) and S[&]T (Science [&] Technology) are starting the design of a solar radio telescope that directly detects eruptions on the sun. The reason for the design is a request from the Ministry of Defense. The KNMI (Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute) is also participating in this project. The first phase of the project DISTURB (Disturbance detection by Intelligent Solar radio Telescope or (Un)perturbed Radiofrequency Bands) in which the design of the radio telescope is developed started on 30 January.

Eruptions on the sun occur regularly and generally do not cause problems when they are small. Occasionally, the bursts are so intense that they can seriously interfere with radars, GPS receivers or radio connections. For example, air traffic in Sweden was seriously delayed in 2015 when a radar was blinded at Malmö airport. The Ministry of Defense and the KNMI want to be able to warn military and civilian users of antenna systems for such intense outbursts. The solar radio telescope of the DISTURB project feeds their warning systems with the necessary data.

"It is great that techniques from radio astronomy have a direct societal application." Says Michiel Brentjens, radio astronomer at ASTRON.

Up to now, there are practically no comparable instruments that can provide real-time interference data from the sun. The ones that exist are not accessible, have a poorer quality or produce with a considerable delay, which can turn out to be problematic at crucial moments. That is why ASTRON, S[&]T and KNMI have joined forces and are now taking the first step towards a telescope that makes data of extreme eruptions on the sun freely accessible.

After the design of the solar radio telescope has been completed, a first prototype will be built on full scale in the follow-up project. After that, it can be scaled up to 12 to 20 stations worldwide, so that the radio telescope has a global coverage. The telescope is based on the model of antennas of various existing and future telescopes such as LOFAR (LOw Frequency ARray, ASTRON radio telescope) and SKA (Square Kilometre Array).

When the telescope detects that an eruption is taking place on the sun, LOFAR will respond to this by, among other things, taking radio photos of the sun and the Ministry of Defense will know that they may experience interference on their systems. In addition, this development is important for international civil aviation that increasingly considers the effects of the sun into its procedures.

S[&]T leads the project. It is expected that the first phase of the project in which the design comes about will take 15 months.  

Picture: an impression of what the solar radio telescope will look like. Credit: ASTRON