The Swedish solar researcher Professor Göran Schwarmer photographed on the platform of the 17- meter telescope tower.

SST: Sights set on sunspots

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences is probably best known throughout the world for the Nobel Prize, but it also operates seven scientific institutes, including one for solar physics. The Director of the Institute, Professor Göran Scharmer, created the optical and mechanical design of the Swedish Solar Telescope and played a major role in the development of the adaptive optics of the telescope.

Professor Scharmer, why is Sweden operating a solar telescope on La Palma?

Prof. Scharmer: It is a long story. Sweden already had a solar telescope on Capri, Italy, in the 1950s. Around 1970 Swedish scientists together with British and Spanish astronomers began to look for a location with better conditions. They decided on La Palma, which is clearly one of the best sites for solar telescopes in the world. The Swedish Observatory thus moved from Capri to La Palma. A 50-centimeter telescope, the predecessor of the 1-meter telescope, was built there in the 1980s. Plans for the new 1-meter telescope began in 1995, as it became clear that adaptive optics for a solar telescope could be realized.

The Swedish 1-meter telescope currently supplies the best images in the world. Who is allowed to use it for research purposes?

Prof. Scharmer: Since it is a Swedish telescope, it is obviously mainly used by astronomers of the Swedish Institute for Solar Physics. However, we have two partners: the Institute for Astrophysics in Oslo, Norway and the U.S. company Lockheed Martin. Each shared 10 percent of the costs and is therefore allowed 10 percent of the observation time. There was also a grant from the European Union so that a small part of the observation time has been dedicated to other European astrono-mers.

What investigations are you planning next?

Prof. Scharmer: We plan to further investigate the magnetic field of the sun, and particularly the sunspots. There are still many unanswered questions here. For example, what exactly is the explanation for the dark cores in the filaments of sunspots?

Can you make conclusions about the effects on the Earth’s climate from your results?

Prof. Scharmer: No, not really up to now. But this may be possible in 10 to 20 years.