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March 25, 2010 | The Mauna Loa Solar Observatory has a new instrument: CoMP. The Coronal Multichannel Polarimeter was deployed in late February. Here, HAO’s Steve Tomczyk, Allen Stueben, and Darryl Koon (from left to right) make room for the polarimeter, which was previously housed at the National Solar Observatory in New Mexico. CoMP was relocated to Mauna Loa to take advantage of the excellent sky conditions there.
CoMP uses a telescope with a lens roughly eight inches wide to gather and analyze light from the Sun’s corona (the extremely hot halo around the Sun that becomes visible during eclipses). It tracks magnetic activity around the entire edge of the Sun, covering much more area than previous instruments. It also collects data far more often than its predecessors—as frequently as a measurement every 15 seconds.
In 2007, Steve Tomczyk and colleagues used CoMP to observe elusive oscillations in the Sun’s corona, known as Alfvén waves, for the first time ever—a major discovery that gives scientists more insight into magnetic fields. In May 2009, an image of the instrument’s Alfvén wave observations was featured on the cover of Physics Today.
To make room for CoMP, PICS (an H-alpha prominence and solar disk monitor) was decommissioned. The images previously provided by PICS will come from a new Coronado SolarMax60 solar telescope.