Scientists to see the sun in stellar detail

Patrycja Ubysz and Patrick Harland discuss the new advances towards imaging the sun

Patrycja Ubysz
17th February 2020

The sun is not simply a uniform sphere of exploding gases. There are a range of other features, from solar winds and to storms affecting a magnetic field of about 150 million kilometres distant Earth.

The parts of the sun we can observe in the range of visible light is called the photosphere, a 100 km thick layer just under the atmosphere of the Sun. The photo released in January, taken by the most powerful telescope, shows clearly a granulated structure of the photosphere. However, what else can we find with this new machine?

In 2013, the largest solar telescope started to rise on the Hawaiian summit Haleakala, despite protests of the local community. Haleakala means “house of the sun” and is a sacred place for many Hawaiians. Regardless of the moral judgement of the situation, the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope was eventually built and launched. The test images were published in January 2020.

Distinctive with its impeccable resolution of 25 km, compared to 300 km in a standard solar telescope, this allows us to see small features of the Sun in a great detail.

Reaching this resolution is partially a result of using a mirror 4 meters in diameter, twice as big as previous sun telescopes. Consequently, exposures are shorter and therefore achieving capture of shorter-living features. Such power, however, comes at its cost. The apparatus needs a powerful cooling system to manage the energy gained from the Sun.

DKIST can help seeing and understanding the role and genesis of cosmic magnetic fields, including changes in the behaviour of plasma. Perhaps scientists will discover a new phenomena no one expected to see and potentially begin to answer questions about solar-terrestrial interactions.- Patrycja Ubysz

This is going to work well in cohesion with the Solar Orbiter (SolO) a joint EU and US probe which is intended to take images of the sun from a point closer than has been done before. The aim of SolO is to be able to better predict space weather, with the intention of better preparing for solar storms that have the potential to damage satellites and power grids causing major disruption in affected areas. Due to the proximity to the sun a variety of protective measures are required, including a large titanium shield and a covering made of baked animal bones.

The unique flight path of the SolO satellite will allow for images and data on the pole's of the sun to be collected. This will allow for a far better insight for researchers into the way in which the sun acts and the impacts that can have on all of us - Patrick Harland

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