The most recent images from the Solar Telescope of the National Science Foundation DANIEL K. INUI, reveal the latest details on the surface of the sun.
In the image taken at 789 nanometers, features of 30 km (for the first time ever) can be observed.
The images show a pattern of turbulent “boiling” plasma that covers the entire sun. The cell-like structures are the signature of violent motions that transport heat from the inside of the sun to its surface. That hot solar plasma rises in the bright centers of “cells,” cools, then sinks below the surface in dark lanes in a process known as convection.
In these dark lanes we can also see the tiny, bright markers of magnetic fields. Never before seen to this clarity, these bright specks are thought to channel energy up into the outer layers of the solar atmosphere called the corona. These bright spots may be at the core of why the solar corona is more than a million degrees.
This most advanced telescope has also been able to detect the magnetic eruptions of the sun. They can affect air traffic, satellite communications, and cause a prolonged slowdown in many wireless-based technologies.
By mapping the magnetic fields that occur on the solar corona, this telescope will improve understanding of space weather and prediction of solar storms.
The sun, as our closest star, is a giant nuclear reactor that burns about 5 million tonnes of hydrogen every second. all that energy radiates into space in every direction. The small part of that energy that strikes the earth makes life on it possible.
Finally resolving these tiny magnetic features is central to what makes the Inouye Solar Telescope unique. It can measure and characterize the sun’s magnetic field in more detail than ever seen before and determine the causes of potentially harmful solar activity.
“It’s all about the magnetic field,” said Thomas Rimmele, director of the Inouye Solar Telescope. “To unravel the sun’s biggest mysteries, we have to not only be able to clearly see these tiny structures from 93 million miles away but very precisely measure their magnetic field strength and direction near the surface and trace the field as it extends
SPECIFIC CHARACTERISTICS OF THE TELESCOPE
To achieve the proposed science, this telescope required important new approaches to its construction and engineering. Built by NSF’s National Solar Observatory and managed by AURA, the Inouye Solar Telescope combines a 13-foot (4-meter) mirror — the world’s largest for a solar telescope — with unparalleled viewing conditions at the 10,000-foot Haleakala summit.
Focusing 13 kilowatts of solar power generates enormous amounts of heat — heat that must be contained or removed. A specialized cooling system provides crucial heat protection for the telescope and its optics. More than seven miles of piping distribute coolant throughout the observatory, partially chilled by ice created on site during the night.
MORE PARTS OF NEW TELESCOPE
The dome enclosing the telescope is covered by thin cooling plates that stabilize the temperature around the telescope, helped by shutters within the dome that provide shade and air circulation. The “heat-stop” (a high-tech, liquid-cooled, doughnut-shaped metal) blocks most of the sunlight’s energy from the main mirror, allowing scientists to study specific regions of the sun with unparalleled clarity.
The telescope also uses state-of-the-art adaptive optics to compensate for blurring created by Earth’s atmosphere. The design of the optics (“off-axis” mirror placement) reduces bright, scattered light for better viewing and is complemented by a cutting-edge system to precisely focus the telescope and eliminate distortions created by the Earth’s atmosphere. This system is the most advanced solar application to date.
“With the largest aperture of any solar telescope, its unique design, and state-of-the-art instrumentation, the Inouye Solar Telescope — for the first time — will be able to perform the most challenging measurements of the sun,” Rimmele said. “After more than 20 years of work by a large team devoted to designing and building a premier solar research observatory, we are close to the finish line. I’m extremely excited to be positioned to observe the first sunspots of the new solar cycle just now ramping up with this incredible telescope.”
NEW ERA OF SOLAR ASTRONOMY
NSF’s new ground-based Inouye Solar Telescope will work with space-based solar observation tools such as NASA’s Parker Solar Probe (currently in orbit around the sun) and the European Space Agency/NASA Solar Orbiter (soon to be launched). The three solar observation initiatives will expand the frontiers of solar research and improve scientists’ ability to predict space weather.
“It’s an exciting time to be a solar physicist,” said Valentin Pillet, director of NSF’s National Solar Observatory. “The Inouye Solar Telescope will provide remote sensing of the outer layers of the sun and the magnetic processes that occur in them. These processes propagate into the solar system where the Parker Solar Probe and Solar Orbiter missions will measure their consequences. Altogether, they constitute a genuinely multi-messenger undertaking to understand how stars and their planets are magnetically connected.”
FIRST IMAGE A – NEW ERA
“These first images are just the beginning,” said David Boboltz, a program director in NSF’s Division of Astronomical Sciences who oversees the facility’s construction and operations. “Over the next six months, the Inouye telescope’s team of scientists, engineers and technicians will continue testing and commissioning the telescope to make it ready for use by the international solar scientific community. The Inouye Solar Telescope will collect more information about our sun during the first 5 years of its lifetime than all the solar data gathered since Galileo first pointed a telescope at the sun in 1612.”
Source: National Science Foundation