The most detailed photo ever taken of a sunspot shows a dark spot larger than Earth orbiting 10,000 miles



Stunning new images of a huge dark spot on the sun look like a heart or a flaming flower.

The sunspot – where strong magnetic fields meet hot gases boiling up from within – is about 10,000 miles wide. That is wide enough for the Earth to have some room to move in.

The world’s largest solar observatory, the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope on the Hawaiian island of Maui, captured the phenomenon in unprecedented detail on January 28. The National Science Foundation, which owns the telescope, released the image and a video of the sunspot on Friday. “The sunspot image reaches a spatial resolution about 2.5 times higher than ever before, showing magnetic structures as small as 20 kilometers on the surface of the sun,” said Thomas Rimmele, associate director at the National Solar Observatory of the Sunspot. the NSF, which operates the telescope. said in a press release.

Sunspots form in regions where the sun’s magnetic field is so powerful that it lowers atmospheric pressure, which in turn lowers the temperature. In this case, the dark spot is a cool 7,500 degrees Fahrenheit.

The petal-like streaks emerging from the dark spot result from the interaction between the magnetic fields and hot gases bubbling up from beneath the surface.

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This swirling action is visible in the video clip below. It records about a minute and a half of real-time solar activity, compressed to just four seconds. The frame is approximately 20,000 miles wide.

The most detailed photo ever taken of a sunspot shows a dark spot larger than Earth orbiting 10,000 miles
NSF / NSO / AURA

Inouye could help predict violent solar eruptions

The Inouye telescope made an impression when it published its first observations in January. Although the telescope was not yet ready, the first images of the sun were clearer than those from any previous telescope.

The most detailed photo ever taken of a sunspot shows a dark spot larger than Earth orbiting 10,000 miles
A movie from the Inouye Solar Telescope shows how the sun’s plasma moves across the surface.NSO / NSF / AURA

This powerful lens can help scientists unravel the mysteries of space weather and even predict solar events that could be dangerous to humans.

That’s because the whole solar system sits within the outer regions of the sun’s atmosphere. Magnetic, electrically charged particles from the sun constantly wash across the planets in a steady stream called solar wind. This magnetic current creates aurorae as it interacts with the Earth’s atmosphere. But violent explosions on the sun cause spikes of electrically charged particles that can damage critical technology.

The most detailed photo ever taken of a sunspot shows a dark spot larger than Earth orbiting 10,000 miles
An animation of solar wind shows particles flowing from the sun to the earth.NASA

By using Inoye to study the dynamics of these events, scientists were able to predict them.

Inouye could also help solve a great mystery: why the Sun’s corona is up to 500 times hotter than its surface. Astronomers have struggled to understand this phenomenon since the 1940s.

Construction of the telescope is expected to be completed by June of this year, but the pandemic has pushed it back to 2021.

The most detailed photo ever taken of a sunspot shows a dark spot larger than Earth orbiting 10,000 miles
The Inouye Solar Telescope is located near the top of Haleakalā in Maui, Hawai’i.NSO / AURA / NSF

“The start of the telescope operations has been somewhat delayed by the impact of the global COVID-19 pandemic,” David Boboltz, NSF program director for Inouye, said in the publication.

But he added that “this image is an early preview of the unprecedented possibilities the facility will bring to our understanding of the sun.”


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