Fri. Jan 15th, 2021

Space observatory captures ‘structures as small as 20km’ in extraordinary sunspot image

3 min read

Solar telescope captures sunspot on the Sun

Sunspots are temporary phenomena on the Sun’s photosphere, appearing as areas significantly darker than the surrounding environment. They are regions of reduced surface temperature caused by concentrations of fluctuating magnetic fields which hamper the transfer of heat.

Space scientists now aware the more sunspots visible on the Sun, the more active our solar system’s star is.

The sunspot image achieves a spatial resolution about 2.5 times higher than ever previously achieved, showing magnetic structures as small as 20km on the surface of the Sun

Dr Thomas Rimmele

Although the telescope remains in the final phases of completion, the image offers a reassuring indication of how the telescope’s advanced optics and four-metre primary mirror will soon offer unparalleled views of the Sun from Earth.

The remarkable photo, which was captured on January 28, is not the same naked eye sunspot currently visible on the Sun.

Dr Thomas Rimmele, associate director at National Solar Observatory, said: “The sunspot image achieves a spatial resolution about 2.5 times higher than ever previously achieved, showing magnetic structures as small as 20km (12 miles) on the surface of the Sun.”

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The image reveals striking details of the sunspot’s structure as seen at the Sun’s surface.

The streaky appearance of hot and cool gas spreading from the darker core is the result of sculpting by a convergence of intense magnetic fields and unimaginably hot gasses spewing from below.

The concentration of magnetic fields in this dark region helps stifle heat within the Sun from reaching the surface.

Although the dark area of the sunspot is cooler than the surrounding area of the Sun, it is still extremely hot with a temperature often exceeding 4,148C.

This sunspot image, measuring about 10,000 miles across, represents a tiny area of the Sun.

However, the sunspot is still easily large enough to swallow the Earth.

The Sun reached solar minimum – the period of fewest sunspots during its 11-year solar cycle – in December last year.

This sunspot was one of the first of the new solar cycles, with the solar maximum forecast to occur in summer 2025.

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Dr Matt Mountain, of the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, said: ”With this solar cycle just beginning, we also enter the era of the Inouye Solar Telescope.

“We can now point the world’s most advanced solar telescope at the Sun to capture and share incredibly detailed images and add to our scientific insights about the Sun’s activity.”

Sunspots and the related solar flares and coronal mass ejections are known to trigger violent space weather events, which can cause havoc on the Earth, a consequence of living inside the star’s heliosphere.

These events affect technological life on Earth, with the magnetic fields associated with solar storms capable of disrupting the infrastructure relied upon for modern life.

For example, power grids, GPS navigation, air travel, satellites and humans living in the International Space Station would all be be hit.

The Inouye Solar Telescope has been developed to add important capabilities to the complement of tools optimised to study solar activity and magnetic fields in particular.

NSF’s Inouye Solar Telescope is located on the Hawaiian island of Maui and is scheduled to be fully ready sometime next year.

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