New high-resolution images of the sun may just be a preview of what we’ll see in the future


The National Science Foundation’s Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope has completed the first cycle of its commissioning phase after more than a year of observations. To celebrate this important moment, new images have been released showing some of the highlights of the work carried out. The images focus on the photosphere, the region often referred to as the Sun’s surface, and show regions where the Sun is mostly quiet as well as more active regions. In quieter areas, the fragmented structure of the photosphere can be seen. The hotter plasma rises through the Sun, creating the brighter spots of these fragments, while the cooler plasma is displaced, creating slightly darker lines between each cell. But to see truly dark areas on the Sun’s surface, we need to look at sunspots. Currently, the Sun is moving towards its solar maximum, the moment at which its activity peaks during its 11-year cycle. This is the perfect time to look for sunspots, as the number of sunspots increases with increased activity. You don’t even need a telescope like Inouye to detect some sunspots. The Inouye Solar Telescope is the world’s largest and most powerful telescope, so not only does it get very detailed images, it can take researchers almost into the Sun, at least figuratively. (several thousand degrees). This difference is due to strong magnetic fields. The Sun’s complex magnetic field cleaves the photosphere, creating the sunspot. Sunspots can have a north and south pole like a regular magnet or interact with other sunspots. They can become quite complex systems, and sometimes the magnetic energy that builds up around them is released in explosive events such as solar flares and coronal mass ejections. These events can be very dangerous as they can alter the space weather around our planet and affect satellites, power lines and other technologies. The published images represent a very small fraction of the research conducted in cycle 1. While the commissioning phase is a way to calibrate and test devices, highly advanced research is also being conducted. Related Gallery 2010 Solar Eclipse Browse Gallery


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