Stunning new images show the face of the sun like we've never seen it before

Stunning new images show the face of the sun like we’ve never seen it before

A new portrait from the world’s most powerful solar telescope has captured the face of our Sun in exquisite detail.

Close and personal to the giant star, at a resolution of just 18 kilometers, the middle layer of the Sun’s atmosphere, known as the chromosphere, looks almost like a shag carpet.

Close-up of the Sun's chromosphere.
A high-resolution slice of the Sun’s chromosphere, showing hair-like jets of plasma. (ONS/AURA/NSF)

Brilliant hairs of fiery plasma can be seen in the image above, flowing into the corona from a sort of honeycomb-like pore pattern, most easily visualized in the image below. These blistering bubbles are known as granules and each is about 1,600 kilometers (994 miles) wide.

Each of these portraits is about 82,500 kilometers (51,260 miles) across, which is only a single-digit percentage of the Sun’s total diameter.

To put the enormity of these images into context, astronomers have placed our own planet above the scale.

Granules of the solar chromosphere.
A close-up of the Sun’s chromosphere, depicting individual granules, with the Earth superimposed to scale. (ONS/AURA/NSF)

This breathtaking achievement marks the first anniversary of the Inouye Solar Telescope – the most powerful instrument of its kind – and the culmination of 25 years of careful planning.

The Sun’s chromosphere, which lies below the corona, is usually invisible and can only be seen during a total solar eclipse, when it creates a red rim around the blackened star. But new technology has changed that.

Never before have we looked so closely at our solar system’s light source. The Inouye Telescope is able to see features of the solar chromosphere as small as Manhattan Island.

Last year, when the near-complete telescope released its first images, solar physicist Jeff Kunh called it “the greatest leap forward in humanity’s ability to study the Sun” since the days of Galileo. .

Now, astronomer and space telescope scientist Matt Mountain, president of the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA), says we’ve cut the ribbon for a “new era in solar physics.”

The insights gained from this new perspective will help scientists predict and prepare for solar storms, which can send a tsunami of hot plasma and magnetism from the solar corona to Earth, possibly causing global blackouts and internet outages for months.

“In particular, we thank the people of Hawaii for the privilege of operating from this remarkable site, the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the United States Congress for their continued support, and our team at the Inouye Solar Telescope , many of whom have tirelessly devoted a decade to this transformational project,” Mountain said in a recent announcement.

The Inouye Solar Telescope is built on the Maui volcano, Haleakalā, which is culturally and spiritually significant to Native Hawaiians. The NSF proudly claims to have included Native Hawaiian contributions throughout the construction of the telescope, and yet some natives say the instrument still looks like an affront to white colonizers.

Another massive telescope aimed at the dormant volcano, Maunakea, has met with much resistance from native Hawaiians, who don’t want their sacred site desecrated for the purposes of Western science.

Clearly, the Inouye Solar Telescope is a massive scientific achievement for modern astronomers, but it comes at a cultural cost for an ancient community of astronomers.

Long before Galileo, natives around the world used the Sun, Moon and stars to better understand our place in the Universe.

The Inouye Solar Telescope allows us to get a glimpse of the center of our solar system like never before, but as our lens narrows, we must not lose sight of the astronomers who have gone before us.

Standing on their shoulders brings us closer to the stars.

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