See the Sun’s Surface Move-in ‘Unprecedented’ Detail

by Brigit Katz,

From our vantage point on Earth, the sun is often a miraculous sight, shining brightly on clear days and bathing the sky in vivid color as it rises and sets. This week, astronomers released stunningly detailed images of the sun’s surface—revealing that up close, the star is pretty spectacular, too.

The Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope has produced the highest resolution image of the sun’s surface ever taken. In this picture, taken at 789 nanometers (nm), we can see features as small as 30km (18 miles) in size for the first time ever. The image shows a pattern of turbulent, “boiling” gas that covers the entire sun. (NSO/AURA/NSF)

As Alexandra Witze reports for Nature, these are the first images taken with the National Science Foundation’s Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope, which sits atop Haleakala, a dormant volcano in Hawai‘i. The Inouye Solar Telescope is the most powerful solar telescope in the world, and according to the National Science Foundation (NSF), its images show the sun in “unprecedented” detail.

The celestial body looks like a bubbling expanse of golden kernels, which in fact represent plasma that covers the sun. The kernels—or “cell-like structures,” as the NSF puts it—are each about the size of Texas. Hot solar plasma rises up in the center of the cells and then cools, sinking down from the surface—“a process is known as convection,” the NSF notes.

The sun is a constant swirl of violent activity, burning around 5 million tons of hydrogen fuel every second. That energy radiates …

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