Solar physicists from around the world will gather Monday through Thursday at Montana State University to discuss their latest discoveries, new studies and possible collaborations.

As many as 300 scientists from the United States, India, China and elsewhere could attend the 44th annual meeting of the Solar Physics Division of the American Astronomical Society, said local organizers David McKenzie and Dana Longcope.

Most of the events will be held in MSU’s Strand Union Building.

As part of the conference, the public can attend a free lecture on how the sun affects the Earth. Area teachers can attend a free workshop on how to use NASA materials in the classroom.

The public lecture, titled “Our Explosive Sun,” will be aimed at a general audience. Speaking from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. Monday in Bozeman’s Emerson Cultural Center, Tom Berger of the National Solar Observatory will explain how scientists in the 1800s discovered that activity on the sun affects the Earth and what that relationship does today.

Solar flares can interfere with satellites and knock out communication systems and power on Earth, for example. Even in 1859, a solar storm started fires in telegraph offices. Berger’s talk will incorporate photos and movies of the sun.

The workshop for area science teachers will run from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday in the EPS Building on the MSU campus. K-12 teachers who attend will be trained on how to use NASA-approved materials.

The conference will cover every aspect of the sun, from the interior, where its energy and magnetic fields are produced, to the outer atmosphere, where solar flares and mass ejections occur, McKenzie said.

Participants will hear China’s plans for solar observation. They will discuss new spacecraft missions, high-altitude balloon flights, long-term missions and ground-based technology.

They will also receive an update on a new U.S. solar telescope to be built on top of an extinct volcano on the Hawaiian island of Maui. Approximately 13 feet in diameter, the Advanced Technology Solar Telescope will be the world’s largest solar telescope until the Chinese build the telescope they’re planning, Longcope said. The Chinese telescope will be approximately 26 feet in diameter.

Conference attendees will focus particular attention on the chromosphere. It is one of the lower layers of the sun’s atmosphere and remains a mystery in many ways, McKenzie said. Participants will also listen to MSU solar physicist Richard Canfield give a lecture tied to the 2013 Hale Prize he won from the Solar Physics Division. They also will hear a report on the National Student Solar Spectrograph competition held recently at MSU.

This will be the second time that MSU has hosted the SPD summer meeting. The last time was in 1997.

For more information, go to http://solar.physics.montana.edu/SPD/SPD2013/.

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