- The Inouye Solar Telescope captured its first image of a sunspot
- The image achieved a spatial resolution about 2.5 times higher than others
- The sunspot measures 10,000 miles across and its center is is 7,500F
The world’s largest solar telescope captured its first image of a sunspot and just shared it to the world.
The US National Science Foundation’s Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope, located in Hawaii, achieved a spatial resolution about 2.5 times higher than ever before – and the telescope is still in its final phases of completion.
The image shows the dark center of the sunspot, which burns at 7,500 degrees Fahrenheit despite being cooler than the surrounding area.
The entire sunspot measures about 10,000 miles across – large enough for the entire Earth to comfortably fit inside.
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The Inouye solar telescope sits in Maui and was constructed specifically to uncover the Sun’s explosive behavior.
And even though it is not yet fully constructed, it is still powerful enough to capture up-close images of the blazing star.
Dr. Thomas Rimmele, the associate director at NSF’s National Solar Observatory (NSO), said: ‘The sunspot image achieves a spatial resolution about 2.5 times higher than ever previously achieved, showing magnetic structures as small as 20 kilometers on the surface of the sun.’
The image highlights the streaky appearance of hot and cold gasses sprawling out from the darker center. Solar telescope shows the first up-close image of a sunspotLoaded: 0%Progress: 0%0:00PlayCurrent Time0:00/Duration Time0:22Fullscreen
The spot in the center is a result of sculpting by a convergence of intense magnetic fields and hot gasses boiling up from below.
The concentration of magnetic fields in this dark region suppresses heat within the Sun from reaching the surface.
Sunspots are a visual of the Sun’s activity and the more there are on the surface, the more active the massive star is.
The Sun reached solar minimum, the time of fewest sunspots during its 11-year solar cycle, in December 2019 and the image snapped by Inoyue is one of the first sunspots of the new solar cycle, which is set to hit solar maximum in mid-2025.
Dr. Matt Mountain, president of the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA), the organization that manages NSO and the Inouye Solar Telescope, 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 are associated with solar flares and coronal mass ejections, which are key focuses of astronomers due to the idea that they cause space weather events that impact Earth.
These events affect technological life on our planet such as power grids, communications, GPS navigation, air travel, satellites and humans living in space.
The Inouye Solar Telescope is poised to add important capabilities to the complement of tools optimized to study solar activity particularly magnetic fields.
NSF’s Inouye Solar Telescope is located on the island of Maui in Hawaii. Construction began in 2013 and is slated to be completed in 2021.
Dr. David Boboltz, NSF Program Director for the Inouye Solar Telescope’While the start of telescope operations has been slightly delayed due to the impacts of the COVID-19 global pandemic.
This image represents an early preview of the unprecedented capabilities that the facility will bring to bear on our understanding of the Sun.’Coronal mass ejections erupting from the sunLoaded: 0%Progress: 0%0:00PlayCurrent Time0:00/Duration Time0:03Fullscreen
WHY DO FEWER SUNSPOTS CAUSE MORE PROBLEMS ON EARTH?
Lack of sunspot activity in the sun is due to a continuing period of inactivity in the star’s magnetic field.
As the sun moves through its 11-year cycle, it experiences active and quiet periods known as the solar maximum and solar minimum.
As solar minimum approaches, certain types of activity – such as sunspots and solar flares – will drop, but it’s also expected to increase long-lived phenomena.
This includes coronal holes, where fast moving solar winds are created when the star’s magnetic field opens up into space. This happens more regularly as the sun’s magnetic field becomes less active.
Charged particles make their way out into the solar system through these gaps and hit the atmosphere of our planet.
This can lead to a number of complications, including magnetic storms which can result in power grid fluctuations, impact on satellite operations and can affect migratory animals.
An increase in solar winds can also alter the chemistry of Earth’s upper atmosphere, which may trigger more lightning and aid in cloud formation.
It can also affect air travel, as more radiation is able to penetrate planes. This means passengers on long-haul flights may receive doses of radiation similar to dental X-rays during a single trip, and puts flight crews in additional danger.
The effects of solar minimum may also include Earth’s upper atmosphere cooling and shrinking slightly, thanks to less heat reaching the planet. This can allow space junk to accumulate in low Earth orbit.