These new telescope images of the sun are just spectacular

Sunspots the size of Earth or bigger.
By Elisha Sauers  on 
Solar telescope observing sunspot
The Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope captures sunspots as vast as the size of Earth. Credit: NSF / AURA / NSO

A new solar telescope in Hawaii has released a series of images of the sun that peer inside the depths of its sunspots and so-called "quiet regions."

The sun may be close to 94 million miles away in space. But with the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope, funded by the National Science Foundation, it seems as if astronomers are able to gaze at the life-giving star under a microscope.

The Hawaiian observatory was built to capture super sharp pictures of the sun and measure the magnetic fields of solar features that affect "space weather," including sunspots, flares, and coronal mass ejections — the plasma spewed from the sun's atmosphere. These phenomena can have catastrophic consequences, disrupting power grids and telecommunications systems on Earth.

Right now, scientists don’t know how to forecast solar storms well, and though the strongest type of these natural events don’t happen often, they can be quite damaging. A solar flare in March 1989 caused all of Quebec, Canada, to experience a 12-hour power outage. It also jammed radio signals for Radio Free Europe.

A mosaic of real sun images
New Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope images show the sun in spectacular detail. Credit: NSF / AURA / NSO

Construction of the $300 million observatory(opens in a new tab) was tumultuous, a collision of development against indigenous culture. The solar observatory sits atop the dormant volcano Haleakalā(opens in a new tab), towering over Maui at 10,000 feet above sea level. In Hawaiian, the name Haleakalā means "house of the sun."

Foundation leaders say the summit has special environmental conditions that allow astronomers to better study the solar corona. But it's a sacred land for many Hawaiians who regard the high mountain peak as a spiritual place to honor ancestors and pray. Over the years of the observatory's construction, protestors(opens in a new tab) attempted to stop it. Despite litigation and a global pandemic, the telescope project was eventually completed.

Looking at a sunspot close up
A closeup look at a sunspot reveals long, dark fibers. Credit: NSF / AURA / NSO

Want more science and tech news delivered straight to your inbox? Sign up for Mashable's Light Speed newsletter today.

Many of the sunspots pictured are as vast in size as Earth, if not larger, according to the observatory(opens in a new tab). These pockmarks look dark because they are cooler than other parts(opens in a new tab) of the sun's surface. The spots can also be the cause of solar flares — sudden explosions of energy caused by nearby tangling magnetic field lines.

Some of the images showcase "light bridges," which appear to cross the gaping sunspots. These features are thought to be the beginning of a sunspot breaking apart. Scientists don't know how deep these structures form.

Telescope observing light bridges over sunspots
So-called "light bridges" are thought to be the beginning of a sunspot breaking apart. Credit: NSF / AURA / NSO

The telescope also captured "quiet regions" of the sun where there is low solar activity. The images show a bright pattern of hot plasma surrounded by darker lanes of cooler plasma. In the atmospheric layer around the sun, there are long, dark fibers emerging from small magnetic field clumps. Up close, the telescope images reveal them like a shag carpet or a mop head.

The new telescope, which is just ramping up its operations, will work in conjunction with the telescopes capturing data in space: the Solar Orbiter, a collaborative mission of the European Space Agency and NASA launched in February 2020, and the Parker Solar Probe, a NASA spacecraft sent up two years earlier.

More in NASA

Mashable Image
Elisha Sauers

Elisha Sauers is the space and future tech reporter for Mashable, interested in asteroids, astronauts, and astro nuts. In over 15 years of reporting, she's covered a variety of topics, including health, business, and government, with a penchant for FOIA and other public records requests. She previously worked for The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Virginia, and The Capital in Annapolis, Maryland, now known as The Capital-Gazette. She's won numerous state awards for beat reporting and national recognition(opens in a new tab) for narrative storytelling. Send space tips and story ideas to [email protected](opens in a new tab) or text 443-684-2489. Follow her on Twitter at @elishasauers(opens in a new tab)

Recommended For You

This galactic collision made a blast brighter than 1 trillion suns

Stunning Webb telescope photo shows actual bending of spacetime

How Webb just changed our concept of Uranus forever

More in Science
The Netflix password sharing crackdown is here. Check your inbox.

Elon Musk will launch Ron DeSantis' presidential campaign on Twitter Spaces

Microsoft Bing will connect ChatGPT to the internet for all users

Meta sells GIPHY to Shutterstock for a big loss after regulators force a sale

How to watch the Microsoft Build 2023 keynote livestream

Trending on Mashable
Wordle today: Here's the answer and hints for May 24

Gen Z is challenging the way we date, says Tinder report

No, Elon Musk can't run for U.S. Vice President

New AI tool lets you reshape images by clicking and dragging

Dyson just dropped six new products, including a wet vacuum and a new robot vacuum
The biggest stories of the day delivered to your inbox.
By signing up to the Mashable newsletter you agree to receive electronic communications from Mashable that may sometimes include advertisements or sponsored content.
Thanks for signing up. See you at your inbox!