The world's largest solar telescope has captured fine features on the sun in remarkable detail, including rare glimpses of decaying sunspots.
Perched atop a mountain on the Hawaiian island of Maui, the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope (DKIST) has been eyeing the sun for the past year, collecting high-resolution data about the activity, or lack thereof, in the sun's three-layered atmosphere. Using this data, scientists hope to answer some of the biggest questions about the sun, like why its outer atmosphere, or corona, is much hotter than its visible surface and how its magnetic fields abruptly reshape and blast out powerful jets of plasma from the solar atmosphere.
A newly released DKIST mosaic features granular views of Earth-size sunspots on the "sun's surface," which is really its lowest atmospheric layer called the photosphere. Sunspots are dark, relatively cool patches where strong magnetic fields reside, betraying the homes of future flares and disruptive coronal mass ejections.
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Such spots have dark central regions known as umbra where magnetic fields are the strongest. These sunspot centers are surrounded by elongated filamentary regions called penumbra, which are seen in the new images as "bright-headed strands," DKIST team members wrote in an image description published on Friday (May 19).
To capture these images, DKIST used a powerful camera called the Visible-Broadband Imager, which was the first instrument to come online when the telescope became operational and is capable of clicking high-resolution images of the photosphere and the chromosphere. The telescope captured countless "dark, fine threads" in the chromosphere, which are a result of abundant magnetic field activity from below, scientists say.
Sunspots do not exist forever; they last for roughly a week and grow in number and shrink as the sun progresses through its 11-year activity cycle. The latest DKIST images show a sunspot that "will eventually break apart," revealed by a light bridge stretching across a sunspot's umbra.
Numerous umbral fragments are seen near another sunspot, whose presence reveals "a sunspot that's lost its penumbra," DKIST team members wrote in the image description. "It is extraordinarily rare to capture the process of a penumbra forming or decaying."
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I never knew penumbral striations had hot cores and cool envelopes.
The picture showing granules also shows tiny, intense convection cells sometimes appearing in the cool, descending area bordering the granules. Tiny clouds of hot gas erupting from the cool valley between cells. Where is this energy coming from? Must be some sort of phase transition. But it is all plasma. No solid or liquid pases. Go figure.
But the ejection speeds are so high that billions of tons can far exceed the Sun's escape velocity. These ejections continue onward and eventually reach the heliopause, which is a boundary region where our solar system is plowing through the thin interstellar medium.
Any object that travels through this mass of high speed plasma will suffer. The Apollo astronauts were lucky to have avoided some narrow misses with flares and CME's in those days. The ISS has a special area with much greater protection for the occupants when these blasts hit them.
I look at this pictures and see a skinscar, a human lens. As far as I am informed I myself have plasma in my vanes. Time for namechange?
We know that darker is cooler. We know that the dark area is a magnetic field coming straight at the camera. Also, charged particles do not cross magnetic field lines but must flow with them. Also, when charged particles flow in parallel they constrict or pinch into narrow flow lines. Try to keep all this in mind when interpreting the images. Truly amazing.
I love to see those pictures. I never imagined they could be shared one day so easily!