The sun’s turbulent surface has been revealed in unprecedented detail in the first observations by the Inouye solar telescope in Hawaii.
The striking images reveal a surprising level of structure hidden within the churning plasma exterior, bringing a previously hazy impression of the sun’s patchwork surface sharply into focus for the first time.
“These are the highest resolution images of the solar surface ever taken,” said Thomas Rimmele, the director of the Inouye solar telescope project. “What we previously thought looked like a bright point – one structure – is now breaking down into many smaller structures.”
The telescope’s 30km resolution is more than twice that of the next best solar observatories.The images reveal the sun’s surface to be speckled with granular structures, like nuggets of gold, each about the size of France. Rising columns of plasma, superheated to almost 6,000C (10,800F), show up as bright spots at the centre of each grain – epicentres for the violent release of heat from the sun’s interior to its surface. As the plasma cools, it descends back below the surface via narrow, shadowy channels between neighbouring granules.