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The Marshall Space Flight Center Vector Magnetograph Facility was
assembled in 1973 to support the Skylab mission. The instrument
was designed by Dr. Guenther Brueckner of the Naval Research Laboratory and housed in an
enclosure at the top of a 40-foot tower. Improvements to the vector magnetograph in 1976
by Solar Physics Branch member Ed West, produced a world-class instrument that has
illustrated the usefulness of reliable vector magnetic field measurements for
understanding solar magnetism
and its role in processes such as solar flares.
The facility added a co-aligned H-alpha telescope in 1989.
This instrument was built as a backup for an H-alpha telescope
which flew on Skylab's Apollo Telescope Mount (ATM); it has a bandpass of 1 Å.
Images from this telescope
provide a view of chromospheric structures, flare activity, and additional information on the orientation of the
magnetic field in active regions. This photograph of the magnetograph shows the gold
plated H-alpha telescope mounted on the side of the magnetograph telescope.
James Smith, the chief observer,
is shown attending to the instrument.
Recently, the magnetograph was again upgraded to take advantage of
current technology. The
upgrade consisted of installing a new CCD camera and data acquisition
system. With the new CCD, the spatial resolution over the 6 x 6 arcmin field
of view is now 0.64 arcsec per pixel (binning 1 x 1), an improvement by a
factor of 5 over the former detector. The new system is also faster (3
minutes for a full vector magnetogram) and much more versatile with its new
computer system and much larger memory. We began observations with this
system on September 14, 2000.
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In the fall of 2005 the instrument was moved to its current location atop the
Physics/Optics Building on the University of Alabama, Huntsville campus.
This new location makes the instrument available for use by students.
The magnetograph works by measuring the polarization of light at various
wavelength positions within a solar spectral line. Circular
polarization in the opposite sense on either side of a magnetically
sensitive spectral line gives a measure of the longitudinal magnetic
field (the strength of the field directed toward and away from the
instrument). Linear polarization provides information on the strength
and direction of the magnetic field transverse to the line of sight.
A more complete description of vector magnetographs and their operation
can be found
recent vector magnetograms and archived data are available through links on our
Daily Images Page.
if your class would like to learn more about the Sun, follow this link
Help for Teachers Page.