Bridging support for ROSA operations facility in the UK

Lead Research Organisation: Queen's University of Belfast
Department Name: Sch of Mathematics and Physics


Energy generated at the centre of the Sun by nuclear fusion flows out to the surface, and subsequently heats the various components of the atmosphere, including the photosphere, chromosphere and corona. This heating often leads to rapid changes in the intensities of spectral lines which are formed in different atmospheric regions. Observing and modelling such rapid changes, which often take place on very short timescales (less than 1 second) are hence vital to properly understand energy outflow in the Sun and how the atmosphere is heated. Unfortunately however, there are few instruments capable of observing the Sun at sufficiently high cadence to reliably detect rapid changes in the atmosphere. In particular, satellite-based instrumentation has not been able to observe the Sun at very high cadence due to telemetry restrictions.

However, in 2006 we obtained funding from both the STFC and our host institute, Queen's University Belfast (QUB), to construct a state-of-the-art imager - Rapid Oscillations in the Solar Atmosphere (ROSA) - capable of observing the Sun simultaneously in multiple wavebands at a cadence of up to 200 Hz. ROSA was successfully commissioned in 2008 on the Dunn Solar Telescope (DST) at the National Solar Observatory (NSO) Sacramento Peak in the USA. It was subsequently delivered as a common-user instrument and made available on the DST for an initial 3-year period from August 2009 - July 2012. As part of our agreement with the NSO, the UK received a guaranteed minimum of 20 days per year observing time on the DST during this 3-year period.

ROSA provides both unprecedented time resolution (5 milliseconds) and spatial resolution, as we have developed image reconstruction techniques that allow extremely sharp images of the Sun to be obtained with ROSA on the DST. Indeed, we can resolve structures smaller than 100 km in size on the solar surface, which lies at a distance of 150 million km from Earth. This is equivalent to resolving an object less than 1 cm across which is 15 km away. Additionally, the multiple wavebands of ROSA permit up to 7 regions of the solar atmosphere to be observed simultaneously. Hence effectively the whole atmosphere from the low photosphere to the upper chromosphere can be observed and analysed as one coupled system. In particular, ROSA allows the investigation of oscillatory and transitory phenomena at an unprecedented level of detail, either as a standalone instrument or in conjunction with STFC-supported satellite missions.

It was important for the UK solar physics community to benefit from the STFC investment in ROSA, and fully exploit the guaranteed time allocation on the DST. Modest STFC funding was hence awarded to establish a Support Facility for ROSA operations in the UK, based at QUB. This provides support for all activities associated with ROSA observing programmes by the UK community, including (i) proposal preparation, (ii) observing support at the DST, (iii) data reduction, including the application of image reconstruction, (iv) development and maintenance of a ROSA archive. It has proved to be very successful, with for example 54 days of observing time on the DST awarded to UK proposals since the start of 2010 alone. In addition, in the last 15 months a total of 8 papers on ROSA data have been published or are in press in major international journals, including 6 in Astrophysical Journal Letters, with another 3 under review and 4 in preparation.

Recently, we have renewed our agreement with the NSO to host ROSA for the further 3-year period August 2012 - July 2015. Once again, the agreement includes a provision of at least 20 days per year reserved for UK proposals, and hence we seek a renewal of our funding for the Support Facility. However, we only request funding from August 2012 - March 2014; support beyond this date will be requested in our Consolidated Grant proposal, due for submission in February 2013 with a start date of April 2014.

Planned Impact

1. Public engagement

Astronomy is undoubtedly the most popular area of physics with schoolchildren and the general public. It can help to enthuse children about physics (and science in general), and encourage them to study the subject at school and university. Hence the societal impact of astronomy is very high indeed, in terms of the Public Understanding of Science (PUS). The Applicants are highly active in PUS programmes linked to their research. Our outreach programmes, which will continue over the grant period, include:

- Presentations and talks at the annual events: (i) QUB Horizons in Physics (400 4th- and 5th-form students), (ii) Physics Open Days (200 6th-form students), (iii) Physics Teachers Conference (100 Physics teachers from schools in Ireland).

- Presentations to schools, both at primary and secondary level, either in the classroom or at QUB. These include `Why is the Sky Blue?' (Mathioudakis) and `To Boldly Go Where No-one Has Gone Before' (Keenan). We also provide these presentations to amateur astronomical clubs and societies, as well as further education colleges.

- We host work experience days for schoolchildren, including 6-week projects during the summer, funded by the Nuffield Foundation. Our PDRAs and PhD students are also involved in outreach schemes, such as Researchers in Residence.

- A private benefactor has recently provided £100K to enhance our PUS activities, in particular to encourage students into STEM subjects.

2. Knowledge Exchange engagement

2.1 Detector development

The detectors in ROSA were developed by ANDOR Technology, who have identified large format, high-speed CCDs as a growing market, e.g. in biomedicine, experimental physics and astronomy. In collaboration with ANDOR and European groups (including MSSL), we obtained funding from the EU/FP7 Programme for a Design Study for the European Solar Telescope. QUB, ANDOR and MSSL led this study in the area of large format, low noise, high-speed CCDs. We are currently unertaking a similar study for detectors for a new US solar telescope. Our workplan includes: (i) custom design solutions for large area, low noise cameras operating at high frame rates; (ii) investigation of the design of mosaic platforms; (iii) addressing the issue of multi-port readout functionality. We are also considering grant applications in the area of detector development, including to InvestNI.

2.2 Fusion research

Tokamaks are plasma devices that have been built for the study and eventual generation of nuclear fusion. Research on tokamaks is a multi-billion dollar worldwide industry, due to the possibility of developing a commercial nuclear fusion energy source. There are several tokamaks at the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy, including JET, the world's largest. The Applicants have strong engagement with Culham (who fund a QUB PDRA to work at Culham), linked to our solar physics programmes, due to the similarities between tokamak plasmas and those found in the Sun. Currently, we are developing a spectroscopic diagnostic for the alpha-particle yield during fusion, of great importance to the fusion community.


10 25 50
publication icon

publication icon
Keys P (2013) Tracking magnetic bright point motions through the solar atmosphere in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society

publication icon
Mathioudakis M (2012) Alfvén Waves in the Solar Atmosphere From Theory to Observations in Space Science Reviews

Description Grant was to provide support to staff in other UK institutes to obtain data from the ROSA solar imager. They will report on the research findings (if RCUK supported).
Exploitation Route Data obtained as a result of support from this grant will be analysed by staff at other UK institutes. Grant has helped to develop and encourage interest in use of ground-based solar facilities by the UK community.
Sectors Education

Description No research supported on the grant, just support for other UK institutes to obtain data for their research programmes using the ROSA solar imager.
First Year Of Impact 2012
Sector Education
Impact Types Cultural

Description STFC Astronomy Grants
Amount £1,674,429 (GBP)
Funding ID ST/L000709/1 
Organisation Science and Technologies Facilities Council (STFC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 04/2014 
End 03/2017
Description STFC Astronomy Grants
Amount £37,969 (GBP)
Funding ID ST/M003493/1 
Organisation Science and Technologies Facilities Council (STFC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 08/2014 
End 03/2015
Description UK-India Education and Research Initiative
Amount £48,900 (GBP)
Funding ID UGC -UKIERI -2017/18-014 
Organisation British Council 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2018 
End 03/2020
Title Database of (reduced) data from the ROSA solar imager and instruments on the Swedish Solar Telescope. 
Description Database of reduced solar imaging data from the ROSA imager and Swedish Solar Telescope (including application of image reconstruction software to produce images at the diffraction limit). 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2016 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact Databases for both ROSA and SST data are now well established and accessed by the solar physics community. 
Description Annual in-house activities 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an open day or visit at my research institution
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Astronomy lectures and presentations are given at the following annual events: (i) QUB Horizons in Physics} (which attracts around 400 4th- and 5th-form students per year), (ii) Physics Open Days (around 200 6th-form students), (iii) Physics Teachers Conference (about 50 Physics teachers from schools in Ireland).

Increased take-up of Physics and Astronomy degree programme over last 3 years.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity Pre-2006,2006,2007,2008,2009,2010,2011,2012,2013,2014,2015,2016,2017
Description Links with W5 Discovery Centre 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact An ongoing partnership with the W5 Discovery Centre in Belfast (Ireland's award-winning science and discovery centre). We developed the Planet Quest exhibition, based on explaining the multi-wavelength nature of modern astronomy. This includes spectacular infrared images from telescopes and satellites, information stands on the nature of infrared radiation, and hands on activities for children. It showcases high-profile Queen's astrophysics research to illustrate to the public that world-leading, technology-driven research is happening in Belfast. The exhibition initially ran March - September 2012, attracting 10,000 visitors, and we hope to run it again during the period 2014 - 2017. Astrophysics staff also host talks, Q&A sessions and hands-on building games in W5 (aimed at Key Stage 3 pupils), and further support W5 through the creation of astronomy CPD materials and a centralised web resource for secondary school physics teachers.

Increased interest in astronomy and science from schoolchildren.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012,2013
Description Michael West lectures 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact We have initiated a series of high-profile public lectures, The Michael West Lecture Series in Astronomy, following a philanthropic donation from Dr West which funds a Fellowship with a major outreach and education component. These lectures, which are scheduled typically twice per year, each attract 200 people, and are now the most widely attended public lecture series at Queen's University and indeed in Ireland as a whole.

Increased requests for e.g. school talks. Media interviews.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2011,2012,2013,2014,2015,2016,2017,2018
Description School visits 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact All members of the Astrophysics Research Centre (ARC) at Queen's University are involved in schools talks, covering their research topics as well as more general interests in astronomy. Most are at secondary level but also at primary (we actively take part in STEPS), either in the classroom or at Queen's. ARC staff deliver a total of about 40 talks/year to pupils, with typical class sizes of 25.

Hard to assess, but in Northern Ireland uptake of Physics at university level has increased steadily in recent years, in contrast to the UK trend.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity Pre-2006,2006,2007,2008,2009,2010,2011,2012,2013,2014,2015,2016,2017,2018