bubbling over

With a single image, scientists changed our understanding of the Sun forever

Snap, crackle, and pop.

Astronomers have stared at the Sun for decades, but only recently have they been able to get up close and personal with our host star.

The National Science Foundation's Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope released the first images it captured of the Sun, not only revealing the Sun in unprecedented detail, but also helping scientists peer into the mechanics behind the star's unpredictable space weather.

The telescope produced the highest-resolution images of the Sun's surface, revealing the detail of cell-like structures of hot gas that cover the entire surface.

INVERSE IS COUNTING DOWN THE 20 MOST UNIVERSE-ALTERING MOMENTS OF 2020. THIS IS NUMBER 5. See the full list here.

The image shows a pattern of turbulent, “boiling” gas that covers the entire Sun.NSO/NSF/AURA

Each of these cell-like structures are about the size of Texas, and the dark borders around them are the markers of the Sun's magnetic field. Hot plasma erupts from the center, cools off as it spills over to the sides before sinking below the surface in a continuous process that transports energy, also known as convection.

The images reveal patterns of hot gas in the form of plasma moving violently across the Sun’s surface. The patterns are made up of tiny eruptions, forming a hypnotic dance of burning plasma which you can see in the video below.

The cell-like structures – each about the size of Texas – are the signature of violent motions that transport heat from the inside of the Sun to its surface.NSO/NSF/AURA

As beautiful as they are, these cell-like structures are also one of the driving forces behind space weather.

The Sun periodically ejects boiling-hot plasma, in the form of solar flares and solar wind, across the Solar System. These ejections cause magnetic storms in the Earth's upper atmosphere, which can have major effects on the power grids on Earth, as well as orbiting spacecraft and astronauts. Ultimately, predicting space weather events will determine the future of human space exploration, too.

But until now, scientists have not been able to fully predict space weather as it erupts from the Sun. To manage that, they need to understand the mechanism behind the Sun’s magnetic field.

"The Inouye Solar Telescope will provide remote sensing of the outer layers of the Sun and the magnetic processes that occur in them,” Valentin Pillet, director of the National Science Foundation's National Solar Observatory, said in a statement at the time. “These processes propagate into the Solar System where the Parker Solar Probe and Solar Orbiter missions will measure their consequences. Altogether, they constitute a genuinely multi-messenger undertaking to understand how stars and their planets are magnetically connected."

Excitingly, these images are just the beginning of the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope's work. In its first five years of operation, the telescope is set to revolutionize our understanding of the Sun, providing scientists with reams of data to analyze on our host star.

INVERSE IS COUNTING DOWN THE 20 MOST UNIVERSE-ALTERING MOMENTS OF 2020. THIS IS NUMBER 5. Read the original story here.

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