A new portrait taken with the world’s most powerful solar telescope has captured the face of our Sun in exquisite detail.
The middle layer of the Sun’s atmosphere, known as the chromosphere, looks almost like a shag rug up close and personal to the giant star, with a resolution of just 18 kilometers.
In the image above, bright hairs of fiery plasma can be seen flowing into the corona from a honeycomb-like pattern of pores, which is more easily visualized in the image below. These blistering blobs are known as granules, and each is about 1,600 kilometers (994 miles) wide.
Each of these portraits is approximately 82,500 kilometers (51,260 miles) wide, representing a single-digit percentage of the Sun’s total diameter. To put the sheer enormity of these images into context, astronomers have placed our own planet over the top for scale.
The Sun’s chromosphere, which lies beneath the corona, is normally invisible and can only be seen during a total solar eclipse, when it forms a red rim around the blacked-out star. However, new technology has changed this.
We’ve never looked this closely at the light source of our Solar System before. The Inouye telescope can detect features in the Sun’s chromosphere as small as Manhattan.
When the nearly finished telescope released its first images last year, solar physicist Jeff Kunh dubbed it “the greatest leap in humanity’s ability to study the Sun.”since the time of Galileo.
Now, astronomer and space telescope scientist Matt Mountain, president of the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA), says that a “new era of Solar Physics” has begun.
Scientists will be able to predict and prepare for solar storms, which can send a tsunami of hot plasma and magnetism all the way from the Sun’s corona to Earth, potentially causing global blackouts and internet outages for months.
“In particular we thank the people of Hawai’i for the privilege of operating from this remarkable site, to the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the US Congress for their consistent support, and to our Inouye Solar Telescope Team, many of whom have tirelessly devoted over a decade to this transformational project,” Mountain said in a recent announcement.
The Inouye Solar Telescope is located on the Maui volcano Haleakal, which is culturally and spiritually significant to Native Hawaiians. The NSF proudly claims that native Hawaiian input was included throughout the telescope’s construction, but some native Hawaiians say the instrument still feels like an affront by white colonizers.
Another massive telescope planned for the dormant volcano Maunakea has been met with strong opposition from native Hawaiians, who do not want their sacred site to be desecrated for the sake of western science.
The Inouye Solar Telescope is clearly a massive scientific achievement for modern astronomers, but it comes at a cultural cost to an ancient community of stargazers.
Long before Galileo, indigenous peoples all over the world used the Sun, Moon, and stars to better understand our place in the Universe.
The Inouye Solar Telescope gives us unprecedented access to the center of our Solar System, but as our focus narrows, we must not lose sight of the stargazers who came before us.
We get closer to the stars by standing on their shoulders.
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