Ground-based telescopes also play a key role in studying the Sun, monitoring it for sunspots, flares, and other activity. China is planning to develop the world’s largest solar telescope, called the Chinese Giant Solar Telescope (CGST). While current solar telescopes are typically no more than 1 meter (3.3 feet) in diameter, the CGST will be up to 8 meters (26.2 feet) in diameter.
Studies of the Sun and how solar activity affects the Earth is a major topic for both ground-based observatories and spacecraft in orbit. In August, NASA launched the two Radiation Belt Storm Probes (RBSP) spacecraft to explore the Earth’s radiation belts, a very hazardous region of near-Earth space that can pose dangers to communications, GPS satellites, and human spaceflight.
Researchers are deploying ever more sophisticated instruments to provide insight into the behavior of the Sun, which supplies our planet with the basic energy needed for life. In October 2011, ESA selected the Solar Orbiter as one of its two medium-class missions.
NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) was launched from Cape Canaveral in February 2010. SDO studies where the Sun’s energy comes from, explores its inner workings, and helps scientists learn more about how energy is stored and released in the Sun’s atmosphere.