techniques available in this closing decade of the 20th century have opened up entirely new horizons to solar research. It is too soon to guess where the neutrino observations will lead, but whatever the results of the present gallium detectors, the astronomical implications will be profound. Helioseismology may be expected to play an essential role in removing the ambiguities of anomalous neutrino fluxes, unless, of course, the discrepancy is entirely a matter of neutrino oscillations between three or more states, which would have deep cosmological implications. What is more, we can be sure that the investigation of the solar surface and the solar interior on so broad a front will provide surprises, perhaps of a fundamental nature. The present writing is based only on contemporary knowledge, and cannot anticipate what lies ahead when we probe into the unknown realm of the solar interior and the small-scale phenomena at its surface.


2.1 Introduction

For nearly 400 years the physics of the Sun has been studied from the ground. While much has been learned about the Sun - and by most astronomical standards it is well understood - the fact is that the Sun confronts astronomers with many unsolved puzzles, both old and new - a point made in some detail in the preceding discussion. Observations from the ground continue to play a major role in confronting these puzzles, many of which have consequences far beyond solar physics.

Within the general framework just discussed, we see the 1990s as the era in which ongoing key initiatives - discussed in Section 2.2 below - will be augmented by a major new initiative, which is needed to make really significant progress in our understanding of solar activity. This new "solar magnetohydrodynamics" initiative depends upon a concerted development program in high angular resolution optical observations and precision polarimetry, using existing ground-based telescopes; and aims for the establishment within this decade of a large-aperture ground-based optical facility - the Large Earth-based Solar Telescope - using adaptive optics techniques to image the solar surface in the subarcsecond range.

2.2 Status of Major Projects and Facilities

One major ground-based solar project is in progress: the Global Oscillation Network Group (GONG) project. It is filmed at a ten-fold improvement in the accuracy of intermediate spatial-scale helioseismology measurements for studies of most of the solar interior. The project is a community effort led by the National Solar Observatory. A prototype instrument will be completed early in 1991 and the next phase of the project is to build and install six identical instruments at selected sites around the world. Given timely funding, this network should be operational in late 1993. Observations and data reduction will continue for at least three years, to be followed by an intensive analysis effort by the helioseismology community. GONG and the helioseismology instruments to be flown on the SoHO mission in 1995 were designed to be complementary and interdependent: While GONG emphasizes intermediate spatial scale observations with a high duty cycle, the SoHO instruments emphasize large and small spatial scales difficult to observe from the ground. Thus, both projects are essential for the advance of helioseismology, and together can attain the helioseismology goals discussed in Section 1.2.1.

The U.S. program of solar physics includes a wide range of ground-based observational facilities operated by national observatories, federal agencies and individual universities. The national observatories with solar observing capabilities (the National Solar Observatory and the National Radio Astronomy Observatory) provide facilities that are publicly available to qualified scientists by peer review. These facilities generally have a scale that is not appropriate for a single university. Federal agencies (NASA, Air Force, Department of Commerce) operate solar facilities in support of various mission goals. These facilities are not generally available to the wider research community. The federally-funded High Altitude Observatory operates solar facilities for its own research programs, but also provides for the use of facilities to the community. Several universities operate solar observing facilities in support of the research of their faculties and students. The scope of these ranges from major, multi-purpose equipment to modest, single purpose instruments. The observational solar programs with two or more faculty members include the California Institute of Technology, California State University at Northridge, Michigan State University, Stanford University, the University of Hawaii, and the University of Maryland. Smaller programs (one faculty member) are found at Penn State University, University of Arizona, University of California at Los Angeles, the University of Chicago, and the University of Southern California.

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine
500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001

Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement