73. The European Solar Telescope

October 27, 2016, from uksp_nug_ed

Author: Sarah Matthews UCL-MSSL; Mihalis Mathioudakis Queen’s University Belfast, Robertus von Fay-Siebenburgen University of Sheffield.

<< previous nuggetnext nugget >>


The European Solar Telescope (EST) is a pan-European 4m ground-based solar telescope planned for construction in the Canaries, with first-light in 2026. The EST consortium consists of 27 partners from 14 European countries, and is truly a testament to how great European collaboration can be! EST was one of only 6 new projects adopted onto the ESFRI Roadmap (European Strategy Forum for Research Infrastructures) in March 2016. This recognition of EST as a future major research infrastructure was a huge milestone for the project and moves it much closer to construction.

What is EST?

Figure 1: An artist’s impression of how EST will look once constructed.

EST is a 4m telescope that will perform high resolution, high cadence imaging and spectroscopy in the photosphere and chromosphere. Its diffraction limited imaging will allow scales of order 25 km to be resolved in the photosphere, and using spectropolarimetry it will measure photospheric and chromospheric vector magnetic fields. EST’s over-arching science goal is to understand the magnetic coupling of the solar atmosphere from the deep photosphere to the upper chromosphere. In particular, EST will probe:

  • Structure and evolution of magnetic flux
  • Photospheric/chromospheric magnetic coupling
  • Chromospheric structure, dynamics and heating
  • Magnetised plasma processes

EST will also be able to address some non-solar astrophysics, looking at e.g. comets, Mercury, and planetary winds.

So, why do we need EST if we have DKIST, you may ask! DKIST will take the hugely exciting and important step of measuring coronal magnetic fields, and in order to achieve this the telescope has an off-axis design. The downside of this for measuring photospheric and chromospheric magnetic fields is that the off-axis design introduces instrumental polarisation into the system, which limits the polarimetric sensitivity. In contrast, EST has an on-axis, polarimetrically compensated design that will allow it to achieve higher polarimetric sensitivity. So, where DKIST will reach sensitivities of 3×10-3 – 5×10-4, EST is aiming for 3×10-5, meaning it will be able to more accurately measure weaker field. EST will also be the first solar telescope to incorporate Multi-Conjugate Adaptive Optics from inception, leading to greater image stability. One further advantage of EST is that it will be able to take advantage of the newest technologies for the first-light instruments. For example, the project has already developed a design for and manufactured a prototype of an image slicer for integral field spectroscopy and spectropolarimetry, as well as for a fibre spectrograph. This novel design removes the requirement to raster and gives you temporally simultaneous measurements. All in all, EST and DKIST would in fact be hugely complementary facilities, and we shouldn’t forget that their respective locations would also offer almost 24 hour coverage form the ground, weather permitting.

Where are we at with the project and how is the UK involved?

Figure 2: A map of the countries involved in EST.

As we’ve already said, EST was adopted onto the ESFRI Roadmap earlier this year. Since then the consortium has successfully secured funding from the European Commission for the next 4 years to establish the legal and governance structures for construction and operation, with the UK leading the work-package on defining the legal structure. The UK has been involved in EST since the very beginning, and has contributed to the design efforts for the cameras for the focal plane instruments, as well as defining science requirements (UCL-MSSL, QUB, Andor Technology). We’re now looking to expand the UK’s role in areas such as adaptive and transfer optics, and data handling and processing for the telescope, taking advantage of the world-leading expertise of groups at Durham, Cambridge, UCL and Sheffield. We’re also establishing a UK Science Working Group to provide greater opportunities for all of the solar physics community to get involved.

In conclusion…

EST is a fantastic opportunity for the UK to play a major role in defining, building and operating a major European research infrastructure that addresses many of the high priority science questions in the STFC Solar System Roadmap. So we invite you all to get involved! If you are interested, please get in touch:

Sarah Matthews: sarah.matthews@ucl.ac.uk
Robertus von Fay-Siebenburgen: robertus@sheffield.ac.uk
Mihalis Mathoudakis: m.mathioudakis@qub.ac.uk