That dark inner spot, that looks like the Eye of Sauron, is called the umbra.
The umbra is where the Sun’s magnetic field is so strong that it traps heat below the surface — and because the umbra is lower in temperature, that also means it’s darker than its surroundings.
Scientists don’t fully understand how and why sunspots form, but they know that the Sun enters periods of high and low activity, known as solar maximum and minimum, in an 11-year cycle.
And we know that at solar maximum, scientists observe more frequent sunspots.
Although sunspots don’t affect our lives directly, they’re associated with more solar activity — which means potentially more solar eruptions like solar flares and coronal mass ejections.
These eruptions can sling radiation and plasma towards Earth, which slam into our atmosphere and create geomagnetic storms that disrupt our electricity and communications infrastructures.
With extremely high resolution images like this new one, scientists can more accurately build models of the Sun’s activity to protect us on Earth, as well as astronauts in space, from potentially harmful solar storms.