Astronomy: Bigger & Brighter

Ever since Galileo taught them to scan the skies with a telescope, astronomers have studied the sun with particular interest. It is the earth's own star, and to earth-bound viewers it glitters with 10 billion times the brightness of any other celestial body. Everything significant that happens on the sun—the emergence of solar flares, for example—signals some effect on the earth's atmosphere.

But even as their sun telescopes have grown larger and more powerful, the sun studiers' problems have grown more complex. When the National Science Foundation set out to build the world's largest solar scope six years ago, a massive...

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