It’s easy to take the sun for granted here on Earth. It shows up every day, does its job and then tucks in for the night. A startling image from the world’s largest solar observatory gives us a reminder of just how remarkable our host star is.
The National Science Foundation’s Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope in Hawaii shared its first image of a sunspot last week, and it’s a doozy. The details are extraordinary and highlight the science potential for the new telescope.
The telescope — which is still getting its finishing touches before going into full operation in 2021 — captured the image back in late January. The vaguely heart-shaped sunspot is 10,000 miles (16,000 kilometers) across, plenty big enough to pop all of Earth right in there with some room to spare.
“The streaky appearance of hot and cool gas spidering out from the darker center is the result of sculpting by a convergence of intense magnetic fields and hot gasses boiling up from below,” the NSF’s National Solar Observatory said in a statement.
The sunspot image starred in a paper covering the telescope’s systems and objectives published in the Solar Physics journal last week.
The sun had been in a quiet period until the end of 2019, but activity has started to ramp up again over the last year. It’s all part of the star’s natural cycle. We can expect more sunspots as it revs up, and the Inouye telescope — which already delivered the— will be there to document them in unprecedented detail.