- The world’s largest solar telescope has released the first close-up of the Sun in unprecedented detail.
- The image shows the Sun covered in cell-like structures rolling along its surface.
- Each of these structures is twice the size of Rajasthan, according to scientists at the Institute for Astronomy.
The structures are rolling along the Sun’s surface, helping scientists map the magnetic fields within the Sun’s corona — the star’s outermost layer. “It is literally the greatest leap in humanity’s ability to study the Sun from the ground since Galileo’s time,” said Jeff Kuhn, one of the professors at IfA.
The four-meter telescope isn’t complete yet and won’t be until June. However, it is going to get even more powerful in the coming months as Kuhn and the team at IfA complete the installation of two complex infrared instruments to capture the Sun’s magnetic fields.
Studying the Sun’s magnetic fields
The Sun’s surface isn’t as calm as it looks from Earth. Nuclear fusion is happening at its core and electrically charged gases generate power magnetic forces on its surface. As the star’s gases move about they get entangled in these magnetic fields creating a ton of solar activity.
When the solar activity results in a sudden explosion of energy — it’s called a solar flare. The problem with
According to scientists, such activity can be disruptive for airlines, cause blackouts, and affect satellites like the ones used for navigation.
Something solar flares are accompanied by coronal mass ejections (CME). These are huge bubbles of radiation and solar particles that explode into space at very high speeds. Humans are largely protected because of the Earth’s atmosphere. However, these sudden bursts of energy can prove deadly for astronauts and spacecraft.
Pinpointing how the Sun affects the Earth
One of the instruments that the IfA scientists are working on is the Cryogenic Near-Infrared Spectropolarimeter (CryonIRSP). It weighs nearly 2 tons and is designed to measure the Sun’s magnetic field beyond the visible solar disk. The second instrument that they’re working on is called the Diffraction-Limited Near-IR Spectropolarimeter (DL-NIRSP). It can track changes and the evolution of the Sun’s magnetic fields in detail.
“These instruments use sensitive infrared technology and complex optics that reveal sunspots and small magnetic features, and how their magnetism reaches into space. With these new tools we expect to learn how the Sun interacts with the Earth,” Kuhn said.
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