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Astronomer Thomas Rimmele spent 25 years setting up the perfect photo

The Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope will help predict solar weather patterns that can have devastating consequences here on earth.

Astronomer Thomas Rimmele spent 25 years setting up the perfect photo
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When the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope came online in January after 25 years in the making, its lead developer, astronomer Thomas Rimmele, was “pacing through the room as if I was waiting for a baby to be born.” Immediately, the Maui-based telescope began capturing images of the sun, offering unprecedented clarity and detail of the surface’s hot plasma and massive convection cells that will give Rimmele and other scientists the ability to measure the sun’s magnetic field for the first time. This will help predict solar weather, which until now has been difficult to study. “We’re 50 to 100 years behind the capabilities of Earth-level weather predictions,” Rimmele says. Solar weather can have devastating consequences if it hits Earth’s own magnetic field. During a massive solar storm, in 1859, telegraph lines across the U.S. and Europe caught on fire. A smaller storm in 1989 caused a blackout across Quebec. Today, Rimmele says, the impact of a solar eruption would be significantly worse, destroying satellites and wreaking global havoc on the power grid, communications, and financial systems. Data from the new telescope will help people prepare.