In recent months solar storms have caused more than one scare. Although their destructive potential is largely limited to electronic devices, our dependence on them makes preventing them key for humanity. A new Chinese telescope points in this direction: the future Daocheng Solar Radio Telescope (DSRT), will observe solar dynamics to allow us to better understand these storms and prevent their worst consequences.
A circumference of 3.14 kilometers.
The new Chinese telescope, DSRT, will consist of a set of 313 antennas with plates six meters in diameter arranged along a circumference of 3.14 kilometers. A central structure, including a calibration tower will complete the structure.
According to Chinese authorities, the telescope will be completed by the end of the year. Daocheng is located in Garzê Tibetan Autonomous Prefecturein Sichuan province, in the center of the country.
The observatory will set its sights on the coronal mass ejections (CMEs), events that launch into space a huge amount of charged particles from the corona of our star, the outer part of the solar atmosphere. We know that these ejections are linked to changes in the Sun’s magnetic field, but we still have a long way to go to be able to anticipate their formation enough to prevent its consequences.
Danger on Earth and in orbit.
And the consequences of these storms can border on the catastrophic. When clouds of charged particles cross paths with our planet they can cause problems in electronic devices, effects that can be particularly noticeable in telecommunications.
The Earth itself and its magnetic field are our main defense against solar radiation, including that caused by these events. However, in some cases our magnetosphere is not enough and the danger can reach different levels: from satellites and space stations (with the consequent risk to their inhabitants) in orbit to submarine cables, through devices in our homes.
It is precisely the submarine cables where most of the eyes are located. If these cables were seriously damaged by a solar storm, the so-called “internet apocalypse“. The vulnerable point of these systems is not the cables themselves, but the repeaters installed along their course, responsible for amplifying the transmitted signal and preventing the loss of information.
This would imply that, although local infrastructures would be maintained, long-distance communications, dependent on these submarine cables, could be completely lost. The consequences would be more than palpable. According to the Netblocks portalthe disruption of the Internet during a single day in the European Union would exceed 6,600 million euros.
Phase II of the Chinese Meridian Project.
DSRT is just one more tool in the great project that China has devised to analyze space weather in order to protect us from dangers such as CMEs. The project It includes the installation of nearly 300 instruments arranged at 31 stations throughout China.
In its first phase, the facilities were placed in the shape of a cross in different locations along the meridian 120 east and parallel 30 north. Phase II instruments such as DSRT will be arranged at 15 stations located along the 100 meridian east and the 40 parallel north. Beijing thus intends to create a structure of observatories in the form of a double cross covering a good part of the country.
Instruments to monitor the Sun.
The Meridian Project of China has been developed through the National Space Science Center (NSSC) of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. Among the instruments devised within the framework of the project is also the Chinese Spectral Radioheliograph, an instrument that will be located in the Inner Mongolia region, and whose purpose will also be to monitor solar activity.
This instrument will in turn have a hundred antennas arranged in a structure of three spiral arms. It will complement DSRT, operating on wider band frequencies.
A complex and delicate system.
Protecting ourselves from solar activity is a important priority for space and weather agencies. As we move through the twenty-fifth solar cycle, the activity of the star we orbit will increase before decreasing again.
If the initial stages of the cycle have already generated scares, there are those who fear that during the next couple of years it will go from warnings to incidents with important consequences.
The danger of these events lies in our dependence on telecommunications, not only when it comes to keeping us informed or connected, but many other daily functions depend on them, such as the transport of people and goods.
Pictures | China News Service/Liu Zhongyan/Ecns.cn