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A montage image of the EST telescope on a hillside (left and right) with a close up image of a solar flare in the centre

We’re part of a project to build Europe’s largest solar telescope.

Called the European Solar Telescope (EST), it will provide astronomers with an unrivalled tool for observing the Sun.

Durham’s Centre for Advanced Instrumentation – part of our Department of Physics – will work on the multi-conjugate adaptive optics system that corrects for the blurring effects of the Earth’s atmosphere, sharpening ten times sharper images. These high-resolution images will enable astronomers to understand the environment in and around our nearest star.

This will allow them to better predict when dangerous solar flares may strike the Earth.

The EST’s high-resolution images will also support the work of research groups across the University – such as the Magnetohydrodynamics Group in our Department of Mathematical Sciences – to refine their models of solar activity.

Solar atmosphere

The EST will have a 4.2-meter primary mirror, state-of-the-art technology and specialised instrumentation suite.

It will be built at the Roque de los Muchachos Observatory, on the Spanish island of La Palma which is renowned worldwide for its astronomical observations.

The EST has been meticulously designed to study the magnetic and dynamic coupling of the solar atmosphere and capture interactions between the different atmospheric layers of the Sun.

A comprehensive set of instruments will be installed to enable simultaneous observations across multiple wavelengths, giving the EST a higher efficiency compared to existing or future ground or space-borne telescopes.

Space weather

The EST aims to provide valuable insights into the mechanisms underlying solar flares and coronal mass ejections.

These events determine the so-called ‘space weather’, which can lead to geomagnetic storms on Earth - seen as the Northern Lights - and have a strong influence on our technological society.

The preliminary design phase of the EST has recently been completed and it’s planned that the EST will become operational in 2028-2029.

Find out more

  • Discover more about Durham University’s Centre for Advanced Instrumentation and the EST.

  • Durham is part of the United Kingdom Universities Consortium (UKUC), led by the University of Sheffield, which has signed the deed of the EST’s Canary Foundation committing to the construction of the telescope. UKUC also includes the universities of Aberystwyth, Queen’s University Belfast, Exeter and Glasgow, along with a further six European countries.

  • The EST’s preliminary design phase was funded by the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 programme.

  • Our Department of Physics is a thriving centre for research and education. Ranked 2nd in the UK by The Guardian University Guide 2023 and in the World Top 100 in the QS World University Rankings by Subject 2023, we are proud to deliver a teaching and learning experience for students which closely aligns with the research-intensive values and practices of the University. Feeling inspired? Visit our Physics webpages to learn more about our postgraduate and undergraduate programmes. 

  • Our Department of Mathematical Sciences combines world-leading research with a dedication to the learning experience of our students. Ranked 4th in The Complete University Guide 2023, we offer a unique blend of high-quality teaching and research across a wide range of disciplines and provide practical experience to support future careers and employment prospects.Visit our Mathematical Sciences webpages to learn more about our postgraduate and undergraduate programmes.

  • Durham University is a top 100 world university. In the QS World University Rankings 2024, we were ranked 78th globally.

Main image: Images of the European Solar Telescope (left and right – credit IDOM) and a solar flare (centre – credit NASA/Goddard/SDO).