Researchers working at the world’s largest solar observatory have shared a test image showing the surface of the Sun in unprecedented detail, and more will come as our star enters a potential record period of activity.
The newly released image was taken by Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope (DKIST) in Hawaii, which is still under construction. Taken January 28, 2020, it is the most detailed detail humanity has ever captured.
“The sunspot image achieves about 2.5 times more spatial resolution than ever before, showing magnetic structures as small as 20 km (12 miles) on the surface of the sun,” Said astronomer Thomas Remelly of the National Solar Observatory of the National Science Foundation.
Each of the “scales” around the same sunspot is a convection cell – areas about 1,500 kilometers (932 miles) wide, with a hot plasma erupting from the center and then cooling as it flows outward, creating a patterned effect around the perimeter of the sunspot itself.
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Meanwhile, the sunspot is an area where the sun’s magnetic field gains extraordinary strength, which disrupts the normal load cell activity and prevents the plasma eruption from exploding, maintaining a cooler temperature and thus a darker appearance.
The interaction between these changing magnetic field lines could also create solar flares and extrude coronal mass, which could interfere with life here on Earth, given the huge amounts of energy and radiation emitted.
These events can interrupt the activity of satellites and navigation systems and even cut off power grids offline in rare cases. Thus, monitoring these types of solar activity is very important, and the colossal detail of the images captured by DKIST during the test phase only really shows enormous promise.
The image captures an area 16,000 kilometers (10,000 miles) wide, which means the entire Earth (12,756 kilometers or 7,926 miles in diameter) can be placed inland.
The Solar System is currently entering a period of increased solar activity, which occurs every 11 years or so, characterized by very high solar flares and sunspots.
This powerful new solar observatory will allow us to observe one of these cycles like never before in the history of our civilization.
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