Awards Database

Scialog: Collaborative Teams - 2015

Gregg  Hallinan

Gregg Hallinan

Astronomy, Caltech

Nicholas Law

Physics, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

Monitoring Extrasolar Space Weather with the LWA and Evryscope

Solar flares – the sudden release of magnetic energy in the Sun’s lower atmosphere -- and coronal mass ejections (CMEs) -- massive bursts of gases and magnetic fields hurled from the Sun’s outer atmosphere, are among the major disruptive forces in our Solar System.

These events are assumed to occur in many other solar systems besides our own.

Now, two astrophysicists plan on using new instruments – the Long Wavelength Array (LWA) and the “Evryscope,” to make what they hope will be pioneering observations of solar flares and CMEs in several thousand other solar systems. In the process, Gregg Hallinan, Caltech, and Nicholas Law, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, hope to be among the first to observe the interaction of these massive energy bursts with exoplanet magnetic fields.

The interaction of Earth’s magnetic field with energy bursts from the Sun give rise to the aurora borealis, or Northern Lights, among other phenomena. Hallinan and Law hope to observe such interactions among roughly 2,000 “stellar systems,” a term encompassing stars and their planets.

They will make use of the California-based LWA, which produces unprecedented videos of the radio sky. “Combining the observing power of more than 250 antennas spread out over a desert area equivalent to about 450 football fields, the LWA is uniquely sensitive to faint variable radio signals such as those produced by super-massive black holes, stellar flares, and auroras on distant planets,” according to Caltech.

They will also use the Chilean-based Evryscope (“wide-seer”), “an array of telescopes pointed at every part of the accessible sky simultaneously and continuously, together forming a gigapixel-scale telescope monitoring an overlapping 8,000-square-degree field every two minutes,” according to the University of North Carolina.

Working in tandem despite the thousands of miles separating them, the LWA and Evryscope will churn out torrents of digital data with about a 45 percent overlap of their viewing areas. The radio and optical data will be separately processed in California and Chile before it is uploaded to a web server that will be mirrored at Caltech and UNC Chapel Hill.

Hallinan and Law note that a substantial amount of software development will be required to process the resulting data in real time, but eventually they hope to develop a fully automated process and make this novel combination of observational tools available to the wider astronomy community.

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