Telescope captures the most detailed, turbulent image yet of our Sun: 'Texas-sized cells of boiling plasma'

National Science Foundation's Daniel K Inouye Solar Telescope will work with NASA/ESA missions and will help scientists uncover the Sun's secrets and predict space weather


                            Telescope captures the most detailed, turbulent image yet of our Sun:  'Texas-sized cells of boiling plasma'
(NSO/AURA/NSF)

A new solar telescope, sitting in Hawai, has captured our Sun in all its glory,  producing the most detailed image ever seen.

"The first images, first and foremost, reveal that the telescope is working and that it is able to achieve the highest quality that we expect from it,"  Dr Valentin Pillet, director of NSF's National Solar Observatory, told MEA WorldWide (MEAWW).

The image shows a pattern of “cells”  appearing together, with each measuring the size of Texas.  Within each cell is boiled gas or turbulent plasma, as it transports heat from the inside of the Sun to its surface.

The telescope — National Science Foundation's (NSF) Daniel K Inouye Solar Telescope — will work with NASA/ESA missions to help scientists uncover the secrets of the Sun and predict space weather, say experts.

Close up, these images show large cell-like structures hundreds of kilometers across and, for the first time, the smallest features ever seen on the solar surface, some as small as 30km (NSO/AURA/NSF)

What is space weather and why predict it?

Space weather, according to Pillet, refers to the environmental conditions that exist in the solar system, similar to environmental conditions in the Earth's atmosphere. 

The environmental conditions in space are influenced by the Sun's magnetic fields, which get twisted and tangled due to the motions of the boiled gas on the surface. These twisted magnetic fields, in turn,  can lead to solar storms.

When these storms make their way into Earth,  they can disrupt our technology-dependent modern lifestyle from GPS to communications and the electrical power grid.

Recently,  during the 2017's Hurricane Irma, a simultaneous space weather event toppled radio communications used by aviation and maritime channels for eight hours on the day the hurricane made landfall, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

To predict space weather and prevent such events from happening again,  scientists need to observe the Sun and the magnetic activity that occurs on its surface in detail. "To really understand the drivers and the impact of space weather, we need to use two complementary approaches. The first approach is to drill down to see the very fine details of the Sun’s magnetic field and how it evolves. This is what the NSF’s Inouye solar telescope will provide," says Dr Pillet.

The Inouye Solar Telescope will collect more information about our Sun during the first five years of its lifetime than all the solar data gathered since Galileo first pointed a telescope at the sun in 1612, says the team.

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