This photo looks a lot like a zoom in on a beehive, or stylized artwork of a sunflower, but it's actually a superzoom on the surface of the Sun. This is nothing more than one of the Sun's magnificent and scary sunspots. A sunspot is important for understanding the Sun's activity.
On January 28, 2020, the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope (DKIST) of the National Solar Observatory in the United States captured the image. It started operating from early 2020 in Hawaii and has since raised cheers from the academic community and science lovers for its great capacity to collect high-resolution data.
This image has even more detail than another amazing sunspot photo from Spain's GREGOR solar observatory, which we talked about in September 2020. Although it's been operating since January, it's not yet finished, so it's still in its calibration and final adjustments. These images indicate some of the power of the instrument.
The image comes just as researchers published, in the journal Solar Physics In January, the journal will publish more articles detailing other parts of the telescope.
The Inouye Solar Telescope in Hawaii (NSO / AURA / NSF).
What is a sunspot?
"The sunspot image achieves a spatial resolution about 2.5 times higher than before, showing magnetic structures as small as 20 kilometers on the Sun's surface," researcher Thomas R. Rimmele, associate director of the National Solar Observatory (NSO) and lead author of the paper, tells in a statement.
These sunspots are pretty big. The image shows an area of about 15,000 kilometers. But sunspots are bigger. The Earth would fit perfectly in a sunspot.
Sunspots are, in short, magnetic disturbances on the surface of the Sun. There, the plasma lies below the surface, and the region is actually colder, though still quite hot. The surface of the Sun exceeds 5,000 degrees Celsius, but the sunspots remain in the region of 4,000 degrees Celsius. So, considerably colder, but still quite hot.
But that doesn't mean they aren't dangerous. A spot doesn't mean less activity on the Sun, but more activity. The more agitated the Sun is, the more spots appear on its surface. These magnetic disturbances release plasma from the Sun's surface towards the planets, creating risk for us and our technology, as we've already covered in an article.
How important is it to observe them?
Sunspots cause spikes in activity. (Image credit: David Chenette, Joseph B. Gurman, Loren W. Acton).
In December 2019, the new solar cycle. Each solar cycle lasts 11 years. We are currently approaching solar maximum, which will occur in 2025. There will be more spots scattered across the Sun's surface and the most frequent solar flares of the decade will occur. This is the most dangerous period for the Earth.
Solar storms carry plasma, that is, extremely charged particles. They can damage electronic equipment, such as satellites, and even equipment on Earth. In addition, a very strong storm would put astronauts' lives at risk. Understand about all this in this link. But they're not always so strong. They often cause minor inconveniences, such as interference andinterruptions in radio communications.
So this is the importance of monitoring sunspots. The earlier we predict a major eruption, the more time we have to take preventative measures and minimize damage, such as disabling power grids for entire countries and states, time for astronauts to run to capsules, etc, in the case of very strong (rarer) storms.
"With this solar cycle just beginning, we have also entered the era of the Inouye Solar Telescope," explains Dr. Matt Mountain, president of the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA). "We can now point the world's most advanced solar telescope at the Sun to capture and share incredibly detailed images and add to our scientific knowledge of theactivity of the sun."
With information from Science Alert and National Solar Observatory.