- National Science Foundation released the highest resolution image ever captured of the Sun’s surface.
- They used ground-based Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope to capture unprecedented details.
- It reveals features as small as 18 miles in size.
Science has helped us better understand the Sun, other stars, and the plasma state of matter (such as the Sun’s corona). However, the underlying physics behind the space weather, which impacts communication networks and power grids on Earth, is still not well explored.
Scientists are trying to get a better look at the Sun so they can forecast its weather pattern. Recently, the National Science Foundation (NSF) released unprecedented details of the surface of the Sun. It is captured by a ground-based 4-meter Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope (DKIST).
This is the highest resolution image ever captured of the Sun’s surface: it is taken at 789 nanometers, and we can see features as small as 18 miles (30 kilometers) in size.
World’s Largest Solar Telescope
NSF has been working on this solar research observatory for more than two decades. DKIST combines a 4-meter-wide mirror with exceptional viewing conditions at the 300-meter Haleakala summit.
Focusing 13 kilowatts of solar power produces intense heat, which must be removed or contained somewhere. There is a special cooling system to handle this problem: over 11 kilometers of piping disperse cooling throughout the observatory. The telescope dome is shielded with shutters and thin cooling plates that keep the temperatures around the telescope stable.
Source: National Science Foundation
A doughnut-shaped liquid-cooled material called ‘heat-stop’ blocks most of the sunrays from the main mirror, enabling astrophysicists to analyze certain portions of the Sun with unprecedented clarity. To compensate for distortions created by Earth’s atmosphere, DKIST utilizes state-of-the-art adaptive optics, which decreases bright scattered light for better viewing.
The images captured by the telescope show ‘boiling’ plasma covering the whole Sun. Each cell-like structure is about the size of Ukraine. It represents intense motions of heat transferring from Sun’s core to its surface.
The bright region in the center of each ‘cell’ represents hot solar plasma rising on the surface, which cools and eventually sinks below the surface in dark lanes. This process is called convection.
The smallest features ever observed on the Sun’s surface | As small as 18 miles | NSO
Why Is This Important?
With advanced equipment, unique design, and the largest aperture of any solar telescope, DKIST will be able to carry out the most complex measurement of the Sun.
For example, it will map magnetic fields in the outermost part of the Sun’s atmosphere, the corona. Massive magnetic eruption on the Sun impacts Earth’s satellite communications, disabling technologies like GPS.
The telescope will help scientists better understand how space weather changes and make better predictions about solar storms. It will work with space-based solar telescopes such as Solar Orbiter and Parker Solar Probe.
Together, these three telescopes will expand the frontiers of solar research and reveal much more about how stars and their planets are magnetically connected.