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Locarno and Lugano at the heart of astrophysics research in Europe

The ZIMPOL polarimeter
The ZIMPOL polarimeter
Image of the sun taken with the ZIMPOL polarimeter
Image of the sun taken with the ZIMPOL polarimeter

Institutional Communication Service

It is an established fact that the Sun is important for our existence on earth, starting with its fundamental effects on climate and ecosystems. But the sun is also important because of the strong impact that high-intensity phenomena such as solar flares and the related electromagnetic 'storms' can have on those human activities that are highly dependent on technology, especially satellite telecommunications. In the field of astrophysics, the analysis of the interactions between the Sun and the Earth is an activity that has become increasingly important in recent decades – an activity well known to the researchers at the Istituto Ricerche Solari Locarno (IRSOL), a research institute associated with USI since the end of 2015, which conducts observations and analysis with the utmost precision of solar physical phenomena. The unique expertise of the observatory located near Locarno was rewarded, in September, with the allocation of a grant of 760 thousand euros to participate in the SOLARNET project, funded by the European Commission under the Horizon 2020 framework programme.

SOLARNET is a wide-ranging project involving many researchers in Europe and whose main objective is to integrate the major European infrastructures in the field of high-resolution solar physics. The project achievements will be of principal importance in defining the exploitation of the future 4-meter European Solar Telescope (EST), currently under construction in the Canary Islands. IRSOL is a member this project thanks also to its famous ZIMPOL polarimeter, a unique instrument in the world - originally developed at ETH Zurich - performing spectropolarimetric measurements. Currently, a new device is being tested on the ZIMPOL to correct the systematic effects produced by the instrumentation and thus increase the polarimetric accuracy, i.e. the ability to 'read' the polarization of a beam of sunlight to identify physical phenomena leading to a better understanding of solar activity, including the aforementioned solar flares. The new device will also be installed on the GREGOR solar telescope in Tenerife, which will serve as the final test bench for the EST.

In addition to USI with IRSOL and the Institute of Computational Science (ICS) the SOLARNET project also involves other entities in Switzerland, such as the Haute École d'ingénierie et de gestion du Canton Vaud and the Swiss National Supercomputing Centre (CSCS) in Lugano-Cornaredo. The latter will play a role as an infrastructure for all those activities related to numerical simulations, thus increasing the impact of high-resolution data by offering science-ready data and facilitating their retrieval and usage. IRSOL, in addition to developing the new device for the GREGOR telescope, will also be involved in the training activities, with the organization of a 'school' at USI in Lugano, in collaboration with the Faculty of Informatics.

More about IRSOL at: www.irsol.ch

 

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