Solar telescope images reveal the surface of the sun like never before

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New images of the sun’s surface taken by a powerful ground-based solar telescope reveal sunspots and other features in unprecedented detail.

the eight pictures, Released May 19taken with the National Science Foundation’s Daniel K. Inoue solar telescopea 13.1-foot telescope located on the island of Maui, Hawaii.

Although the sun is becoming increasingly active as solar maximum approaches in July 2025 — the peak of the sun’s 11-year cycle — the images show the quieter sides of the sun’s surface.

Dark, cool sunspots are scattered in the photosphere, or the surface of the sun where the magnetic field is strong, and they can be the size of Earth or larger. Sunspot clusters are the cause of solar flares and coronal mass ejections – when plasma and a portion of the magnetic field separates from the sun’s outer atmosphere, or corona, and flows through the solar system.

These energetic eruptions from the Sun can affect Earth’s satellite communications.

The sunspot regions shown in the images are study in contrast. The bright, hot plasma flows upwards at the Sun’s surface, while the darker, cooler plasma flows out. In the chromosphere, the layer of atmosphere above the surface, thread-like structures reveal the presence of magnetic fields.

Fine and detailed structures, including glowing dots located where the magnetic field is strongest, can be seen in dark sunspots. Bright filaments derived from the magnetic field called penumbral filaments, which conduct heat, surround sunspots.

Another image shows a sunspot that has lost most of its surrounding area, or penumbra, which appears to be dissolving. The researchers believe that the remaining fragments could be the end point in the evolution of sunspots before they disappear.

The Inouye Solar Telescope also shed light on “bridges of light,” bright solar features spanning the darkest region of a sunspot. These complex structures can vary in appearance, but scientists believe photobridges could indicate that a sunspot is about to decay. Future observations could provide more data on the formation and significance of optical bridges.

The images taken over the past year were among some of the first observations using the world’s largest and most powerful ground-based solar telescope during the commissioning phase, according to the National Science Foundation. According to the agency, the telescope is currently being lifted to its full operational capacity.

Scientists hope the telescope’s capabilities will allow them to answer key questions about the sun, including the origin of solar storms, as well as reveal the intricacies of its magnetic field.

The telescope is designed to make continuous measurements of the magnetic fields in the sun’s corona and to provide images of the solar atmosphere like never before. Compared to the imaging capabilities of other observatories, Inouye can capture solar features three times smaller.

Called solar data from the Inouye Solar Telescope, as well as two space missions Solar orbiter and Parker Solar Probecould help unravel some of the mysteries of the perpetual sun — all while providing stunning views of our own star in a new light.

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