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Photos Of Solar Telescopes At National Solar Observatory

Updated on December 9, 2015

Photo Of Evans Solar Telescope

Photo Of Dunn Solar Telescope

Solar Telescopes At the NSO In Sunspot New Mexico

The photos of the solar telescopes at the National Solar Observatory in Sunspot New Mexico represent only a small amount of the equipment on the summit of Sacramento Peak that is used to explore the surface of the sun. The 9200 foot elevation of Sacramento Peak, combined with exceptionally clear skies, provides an excellent location for peering at the surface of the sun.

My wife and I recently took a trip to New Mexico and visited the charming town of Cloudcroft, which is in the Lincoln National Forest. Sunspot, the aptly named community where the National Solar Observatory is located, is nearby.

Scientists use these solar telescopes to study phenomenon such as sunspots, which affect weather and radio communications on earth. Solar flares, another phenomenon on the surface of the sun, have even been known to cause major power blackouts as they bombard the earth with electromagnetic radiation.

The first photo is of the Evans Solar Facility. It was built in 1952 and houses two solar telescopes, a 16" chronograph and a 12" ceolostat. This facility is mainly used to look at the sun's corona, which is the faint outermost layer of the sun.

The next photo is of the Dunn solar telescope at the National Solar Observatory. It is a huge structure that contains two mirrors that guide the light of the sun down the tower into an evacuated tube from which all air has been removed. There is another 228 feet below the ground of this 136 foot tower. The primary mirror is located 188 feet below ground. Light hits this 64 inch mirror and is focused up to the surface where it is guided into the scientist's instruments. The rotating part of the Dunn solar telescope weights over 200 tons.

Visitors to the National Solar Observatory can walk around the interior of the Dunn Solar telescope and see the scientists at work observing solar phenomenon. Don't expect 21'st century technology here. The facility was founded in 1947. Much of what you see was built in the '60's to '70's. It is a bit like a time capsule of the space program, with banks of old vacuum tube type equipment, tape data storage reels and bulky desktop computers. Still, the equipment does what it is supposed to do and behind the scenes scientists use modern software and computer processing to analyze the data from the solar telescopes at the NSO in Sunspot New Mexico.

The NSO museum and telescopes offer an unusual opportunity to peek in to the world solar research and also take a look into the past of American scientific research.

We enjoyed this part of our vacation, which also included a visit to the National Space History Museum in Alamogordo. I also got the chance to experiment with long range WiFi gear on top of the Sacramento peak. Using off the shelf equipment, which included a 24 dB dB gain directional antenna and an Engenius USB type wireless adapter hooked to my laptop. I picked up a WiFi connection over 50 miles away next to the solar telescope in the lower photo.

A long range WiFi wireless internet adapter, like the one we tested for range up on the mountain at Sunspot New Mexico.

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