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Solar Power Question: What is a heliostat?

Answer: A Heliostat (from helios, the Greek word for sun, and stat, as in stationary) is a device that, in general, tracks the movement of the sun. The device typically utilizes a mirror, which can be oriented throughout the day to redirect sunlight along a fixed axis toward a stationary target or receiver.

Heliostats are used in solar telescopes, and solar power generation. Heliostats have been used in surveying in the form of a heliotrope to constantly reflect sunlight in a single fixed direction, allowing the accurate observation of a known point from a distance.

The simplest heliostat devices use an equatorial mount and a clockwork mechanism to turn the mirror in synchronization with the rotation of the Earth. More advanced heliostats track the sun directly by sensing its position throughout the day. Others are controlled by computers. The U.S. Department of Energy funded a program for a low-cost tracking heliostat design in the late 1970s, with several major companies competing.

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