A paper based on the research was published in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics last year, led by Jorrit Leenaarts, director of Stockholm University's Institute for Solar Physics.
A new video shows a view of the sun that's so strange you'd think it came from a science fiction horror film. The "skin" of the sun — also known as the photosphere — pulses and morphs in an active region of solar granules imaged by a Swedish telescope.
"These granules are the tops of convection cells where hot gas rises from the interior to cool, and then descends back down," NASA explained in a statement.
The image also shows a dark blemish on the sun's skin, which is a collection of sunspots. Each sunspot is a region of strong magnetic disturbance on the sun. Sometimes, the magnetic fields in these regions align and shoot off material from the sun's surface in an event known as a coronal mass ejection (CME).
If the ejection of solar particles flies toward Earth, it can produce auroras — the dancing lights formed near the poles when charged particles from the sun interact with air molecules high in our planet's atmosphere. CMEs may also zap satellites and affect other space infrastructure, so NASA is interested in how sunspots are formed, which would help it make better predictions about this so-called space weather.
Hence the interest in getting a detailed view of the sun's photosphere. The image may look small, but it covers an incredibly vast swath of sun that would fit four Earths horizontally and three Earths vertically within the boundaries of the animation, NASA said.
The video is based on data taken by the Swedish 1-meter Solar Telescope at La Palma, Spain, in a wavelength of light near the K-line of ionized calcium. The K-line is prominent in the spectrum of stars like the sun, and shows up as a dark line in the sun's spectrum — also known as an absorption line. The absorption line indicates there is some absorbing material in between the star and the observer.
These observations, NASA said, could help scientists better understand how sunspots and other emerging magnetic fields transfer nonthermal energy into the sun's chromosphere — the layer just above the photosphere.
- Amazing New Sun Photos from Space
- What's Inside the Sun? A Star Tour from the Inside Out
- Stunning NASA Image Lets You Watch the Sun Explode in Real Time