SPACE | Ground-based solar telescope takes first close-up images of sun’s surface
WASHINGTON — A U.S. solar telescope released its first images of the sun’s surface with unprecedented details.
The U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) announced Wednesday that its four-meter Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope caught first batch of images showing a pattern of turbulent “boiling” plasma that covers the entire sun.
“NSF’s Inouye Solar Telescope will be able to map the magnetic fields within the sun’s corona, where solar eruptions occur that can impact life on Earth,” said NSF director France Cordova.
The images revealed the signature of violent motions that transport heat from the inside of the sun to its surface. It looks like cell-like structures, each about the size of Texas.
That hot solar plasma rises in the bright centers of “cells,” cools off and then sinks below the surface in dark lanes in a process known as convection.
“This telescope will improve our understanding of what drives space weather and ultimately help forecasters better predict solar storms,” said Cordova.
Magnetic eruptions on the sun can impact air travel, disrupt satellite communications and bring down power grids, causing long-lasting blackouts and disabling technologies such as GPS.
The Daniel K. Inouye, the world’s largest solar telescope that is located on the Island of Maui, Hawaii, can measure and characterize the sun’s magnetic field in more detail than ever seen before and determine the causes of potentially harmful solar activity.
The telescope has a specialized cooling system that provides crucial heat protection for the telescope and its optics. Also, it uses state-of-the-art adaptive optics to compensate for blurring created by Earth’s atmosphere.
The ground-based telescope will work with space-based Parker Solar Probe in orbit around the sun and the Solar Orbiter to be launched in February to expand the frontiers of solar research and improve scientists’ ability to predict space weather.