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Trending Science: Powerful new telescope reveals the most detailed images of Sun’s surface so far

Solar telescope has produced the highest-resolution image of the Sun’s surface ever taken.

Fundamental Research

Nothing new under the sun? Think again. Its surface can now be seen in striking detail thanks to the first images produced by the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope in Hawaii. Recently built by the National Science Foundation (NSF), it’s the world’s biggest telescope dedicated to the Sun. It also showcases the largest solar 4-m mirror in existence. The telescope has uncovered features as small as 30 km across. Cell-like structures covering the Sun’s surface can be seen, carrying heat from the inside of the Sun to the outside. The National Solar Observatory has released several videos of the staggering images.

Greater understanding of the Sun and its impact on our planet

“Since NSF began work on this ground-based telescope, we have eagerly awaited the first images,” NSF Director France Córdova told ‘CNN’. “We can now share these images and videos, which are the most detailed of our Sun to date. NSF’s Inouye Solar Telescope will be able to map the magnetic fields within the Sun’s corona, where solar eruptions occur that can impact life on Earth.” “On Earth, we can predict if it is going to rain pretty much anywhere in the world very accurately, and space weather just isn't there yet,” said Matt Mountain, president of the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy that operates the telescope. “Our predictions lag behind terrestrial weather by 50 years, if not more. What we need is to grasp the underlying physics behind space weather, and this starts at the Sun, which is what the Inouye Solar Telescope will study over the next decades.” The Sun’s magnetic features disrupt satellites, disable global positioning systems, affect air travel, bring down power grids and cause blackouts. The telescope can measure the magnetic field with more detail, resulting in a greater understanding of solar activity. “It’s all about the magnetic field,” said Inouye Solar Telescope Director Thomas Rimmele. “To unravel the Sun’s biggest mysteries, we have to not only be able to clearly see these tiny structures from 93 million miles [150 million km] away but very precisely measure their magnetic field strength and direction near the surface and trace the field as it extends out into the million-degree corona, the outer atmosphere of the Sun.”

Ushering in new era of solar science

“These first images are just the beginning,” added David Boboltz, programme director in NSF’s division of astronomical sciences. “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 five years of its lifetime than all the solar data gathered since Galileo first pointed a telescope at the Sun in 1612.” “This telescope will improve our understanding of what drives space weather and ultimately help forecasters better predict solar storms,” Córdova told ‘Reuters’.

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