World’s Most Powerful Solar Telescope Captures Hellish Photos of the Sun

Solar images
These sunspots, pictured, grow and shrink nearly constantly and can be the same size as planet Earth, if not larger.

Earth’s most powerful solar telescope has captured new images of the Sun, zooming in on sunspots and showing them in nightmarish detail.

While the images almost look like close-up macro photos, some of the sunspots pictured are actually larger than planet Earth.

Scientists want to study sunspots to better understand why the Sun’s outer atmosphere, or corona, is hotter than its surface.

Solar images
A light bridge stretches across a sunspot in this picture.

Sunspots are only temporary, generally lasting for about a week as they grow and shrink as the Sun makes its way through its natural 11-year cycle.

Solar images
In this image, the fine-structure of the quiet Sun is observed at its surface or photosphere. Heating plasma rises in the bright, convective “bubbles” (granules) then cools and falls into the dark, intergranular lanes.

The fiery images were captured by the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope, a four-meter spyglass on top of a mountain in Maui, Hawaii.

The telescope used a powerful camera called the Visible-Broadband Imager which is capable of taking high-resolution images of the photosphere and the chromosphere.

Solar images
Scientists believe this is what a sunspot looks like just before it’s about to disappear.

The Inouye Solar Telescope’s unique ability to capture data in unprecedented detail will help solar scientists better understand the Sun’s magnetic field and drivers behind solar storms.

Solar images
A light bridge crossing this sunspot gives it a nightmarish face. Light bridges can also be a sign of a decaying sunspot.

The sunspots pictured are dark and cool regions on the Sun’s “surface”, known as the photosphere, where strong magnetic fields persist.

These magnetic fields can produce explosive solar storm-causing events like coronal mass ejections. These extreme events can impact Earth, sometimes creating intense aurora lights but they can also interfere with important infrastructure.

Solar images
The elongated structures surrounding the sunspot are visible as bright-headed strands known as penumbral filaments.

These sunspot centers are surrounded by elongated filamentary regions called the penumbra, which is seen in the new images as “bright-headed strands,” adds the team working at the Inouye Telescope.

The recently inaugurated telescope is in its Operations Commissioning Phase (OCP), a learning and transitioning period during which the observatory is slowly brought up to its full operational capabilities.

Solar images
Mosaic of the telescope’s latest solar images.

The Inouye Solar Telescope’s Data Center will continue to calibrate and deliver data to the scientists and the public.

Image credits: NSF/AURA/NSO.