CLASP-II sounding rocket experiment successful

On April 11, 2019, the Chromospheric LAyer Spectro-Polarimeter (CLASP-II) sounding rocket experiment was successfully carried out from the NASA facility at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico (USA).

CLASP-II is an international collaboration led by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center (USA), the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (NAOJ, Tokyo, Japan), the Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias (IAC, Tenerife, Spain) and the Institut d’Astrophysique Spatiale (IAS, Orsay, France). Additional partners are the Astronomical Institute of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic (ASCR), the Istituto Ricerche Solari Locarno (IRSOL, Switzerland), Lockheed Martin Solar & Astrophysics Laboratory (Palo Alto, USA), Stockholm University (Sweden), and the Rosseland Center for Solar Physics Research (Oslo, Norway).

The goal of CLASP-II was to provide new spectro-polarimetric observations of a particular layer of the solar atmosphere, the chromosphere. This complex region is at the core of several key problems, and its investigation is today one of the main priorities in solar physics research. Although there are clear indications that the magnetic field plays a key role in the physics of this region, our knowledge about the magnetism of the chromosphere is still very limited. Solar magnetic fields can be investigated by exploiting the signatures that they leave in a particular property of light: the polarization. CLASP-II succeeded in providing unprecedented measurements of the intensity and polarization of ultraviolet light emerging from the upper chromosphere. These unique observations will now be exploited to get new precious information on the strength and orientation of the magnetic fields present in this region of the solar atmosphere. This kind of information is crucial for understanding, for instance, the physical mechanisms that trigger high-energy solar phenomena, like flares or coronal mass ejections. If directed towards the Earth, these explosive events may be dangerous for astronauts, or may damage the electronic devices aboard satellites, on which our technology-dependent society strongly relies.

Solar radiation at ultraviolet wavelengths cannot be observed from ground, and for this reason a suborbital rocket experiment has been proposed within the framework of the NASA’s Sounding Rocket Program. Sounding rockets are simpler and more affordable than satellite missions, and offer a great opportunity to scientists to test new ideas and achieve rapid results. CLASP-II was launched on Thursday, April 11, at 12:51pm (local time) from the White Sands desert in New Mexico, aboard a NASA’s Black Brandt IX sounding rocket. The rocket reached an altitude of 170 miles (about 273 km), before descending by parachute. The payload was recovered in good condition. The measurement was perfectly performed during the five minutes of observation: both the pointing system and the spectropolarimeter worked very well. A first analysis of the data has shown a good agreement with the theoretical predictions.

The contribution of IRSOL to the experiment will start now, and will concern the theoretical interpretation of the CLASP-II data, with the aim of extracting as much information as possible on the magnetism of the upper solar chromosphere. This work will involve various Institutes, and will be led by Prof. J. Trujillo Bueno (the CLASP-II principal investigator of the IAC). A SNSF “Sinergia” project led by IRSOL (Dr. Luca Belluzzi, CLASP-II team member), ICS (Prof. R. Krause) and IAC (Prof. J. Trujillo Bueno), with partner ASCR (Dr. J. Stepan, CLASP-II team member), is expected to provide novel radiative transfer tools for the theoretical and numerical modeling of the CLASP-II data.


Some of the CLASP-II scientists pose for a photograph in front of the rocket on Wednesday, March 28, 2019, at White Sands Missile Range (New Mexico, USA). From left to right: CLASP-II project scientist J. Okamoto (NAOJ), principal investigator D. McKenzie (NASA), principal investigator R. Ishikawa (NAOJ), principal investigator J. Trujillo Bueno (IAC), and project scientist L. Rachmeler (NASA).

Credits: U.S. Army, Photo by Louis Rosales

IRSOL becomes new host Institute for the e-CALLISTO project

Since February 2019 IRSOL is the new host Institute of the e-CALLISTO project and Christian Monstein, the project PI, is a new affiliated IRSOL staff member. The e-CALLISTO instrument array is an international network of Solar radio spectrometers that has been developed, deployed and maintained by Christian Monstein at the former Institute of Astronomy at ETH Zurich in view of the International Heliophysical Year (IHY 2007). The main applications are observation of solar radio bursts and radio frequency monitoring for astronomical science, education and outreach.

More information can be found on the e-CALLISTO project web page.

The project PI Christian Monstein is a native of Switzerland and lives in Freienbach. He obtained the Electronics Engineer diploma at Konstanz University, Germany. He has 20 years of experience designing automatic test systems in the telecommunications industry. He has worked for more than 20 years at ETH-Zürich on the design of frequency agile radio spectrometers, FFT-spectrometers, radio receivers and noise calibration transmitters as payload on a drone. He also has participated in the European Space Agency (ESA) space telescope Herschel (HIFI), and in the European Southern Observatory (ESO) project MUSE for the VLT in Chile. Recently, he was involved in the radio astronomy project ‘BINGO’ in Uruguay / Brazil and in ‘HIRAX’ in South Africa. He is still responsible for the hardware and software associated with the e-CALLISTO Project. He plays also the role of a coordinator of SetiLeague in Switzerland and he was also representing Switzerland within the committee for radio astronomy frequencies (CRAF). He is still a member of the ISWI steering committee at UN office for outer space affairs in Vienna (UNOOSA) and has just been nominated as a member of ITU.

Fig. 1: Dynamic solar type II radio burst with fundamental and harmonic radiation: This spectrum allows to derive radial velocity of the associated CME as well as the scalar magnetic field strength at the location of the CME.

Kick-off of the H2020 SOLARNET II project

The kick-off metting of the SOLARNET II project was held on January 24th 2019. This project aims at integrating the major European infrastructures in the field of high-resolution solar physics in view of the realization of the European Solar Telescope (EST). The SOLARNET II project will be conducted over the next 4 years, involving 36 partners from 16 countries.

EST is a next generation solar telescope that the the European solar physics community plans to build in the Canary Islands. The project is managed by the European Association for Solar Telescopes (EAST), which was founded in 2006 and now includes members from 18 European nations. Switzerland is represented in the EAST by IRSOL. Since 2016, EST has been part of the European Strategy Forum on Research Infrastructures (ESFRI), a strategic instrument dedicated to develop the scientific integration of Europe.

The Swiss participation in SOLARNET is quite significant, the main participant being Università della Svizzera italiana (USI), while IRSOL and Swiss National Supercomputing Center (CSCS) are third parties. The Haute Ecole d’Ingénierie et de Gestion du Canton de Vaud (HEIG-VD) is also participating to the project.
The contribution of these institutions can be summarized as follows.
The Piz Daint Supercomputer at CSCS will be made available to the solar community to promote numerical investigations of the solar atmosphere, including magneto-hydrodynamic and radiative transfer simulations.
USI and IRSOL will organize a summer school under the title “Solar
spectropolarimetry: From real to virtual observations“. IRSOL is also working on an innovative technology capable of performing high precision absolute polarimetry with low systematic errors. Finally, the HEIG-VD is involved in the work package devoted to the development of a high-performing adaptive optics device.

CSCS and IRSOL present their computational activities at the RSI radio

Wednesday 23th January at 11 am, the Millevoci broadcast at RSI was dedicated to the presentation of the computational activities at the Swiss Center for Scientific Computing (CSCS), bringing as an example the collaboration with the IRSOL in the field of solar physics numerical simulations.

Research at IRSOL currently is based on 3 pillars: telescope observations, theory and numerical simulations. The latter have been able to benefit in these last years of machine time at the powerful computer Piz Daint of the CSCS. In the computational field, projects were also started in collaboration with the Institute of Computational Sciences (ICS) at the Università della Svizzera italiana (USI), with the Institute of Astrophysics of the Canary Islands (IAC) and with the Kiepenheuer Institut für Sonnenphysik (KIS) in Freiburg. International collaborations have grown in importance and this year culminated with the launch of a European H2020 project called Solarnet, carried out by a European consortium which includes IRSOL, CSCS and ICS through the USI. The main purpose of Solarnet is to make available to the scientific community, the major European infrastructures and to foster their collaboration and exchange of expertise in view of the projected construction of the European Solar Telescope (EST) on the Canary Islands. Among the main activities that will take place in Ticino in the context of Solarnet we mention: computation time made available to the European scientific community at the CSCS; the implementation at IRSOL of an innovative technique for the absolute polarization measurement and the organization of a summer school in collaboration with the ICS dedicated to computational techniques in solar physics.

Archiving project of Specola Solare Ticinese sunspot drawings in collaboration with ETH-Zurich University Archives and GCOS

Thanks to its high correlation with the total solar irradiance, the Sunspot Number (SSN), which represents a 400 years long observational data series, was recently recognized in the latest implementation plan of the Global Climate Observing System (GCOS) as valuable information for climate studies. In Switzerland systematic observations of sunspots started in 1847 by Rudolf Wolf, first in Bern and then at the Federal Observatory in Zurich. Its former external observing station Specola Solare in Locarno, built in 1957, became in 1981 the reference station of the SSN, at the same time when the world data center was transferred from Zurich to the Royal Observatory in Brussels at SILSO.

To ensure that the historical sunspot drawings and data of Specola Solare are archived in the long run, MeteoSwiss in the framework of GCOS Switzerland has decided to support the archiving and digitization of these drawings and data at the ETH Library in Zurich. The project is a joint effort by the Associazione Specola Solare Ticinese (ASST) in Locarno and the ETH Zurich and runs for 5 years.