See the Incredible First Image of a Sunspot From the Inouye Solar Telescope

Inouye Telescope First Sunspot Image

This is the first sunspot image taken on January 28, 2020, by the NSF’s Inouye Solar Telescope’s Wave Front Correction context viewer. The image reveals striking details of the sunspot’s structure as seen at the sun’s surface. The sunspot is sculpted by a convergence of intense magnetic fields and hot gas boiling up from below. This image uses a warm palette of red and orange, but the context viewer took this sunspot image at the wavelength of 530 nanometers — in the greenish-yellow part of the visible spectrum. This is not the same naked-eye sunspot group visible on the sun in late November and early December 2020. Credit: NSO/AURA/NSF

The U.S. NSF’s Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope just released its first image of a sunspot. The telescope’s four-meter primary mirror will give the best views of the Sun from Earth throughout the next solar cycle. This image is an indication of the telescope’s advanced optics. The image is released along with the first of a series of Inouye-related articles featured in the Solar Physics Journal.

The world’s largest solar observatory, the U.S. National Science Foundation’s Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope, just released its first image of a sunspot. Although the telescope is still in the final phases of completion, the image is an indication of how the telescope’s advanced optics and four-meter primary mirror will give scientists the best view of the Sun from Earth throughout the next solar cycle.

Inouye Solar Telescope NSF

The National Science Foundation’s Inouye Solar Telescope. Credit: NSF/NSO/AURA

The image, taken January 28, 2020, is not the same naked-eye sunspot currently visible on the Sun. This sunspot image accompanies a new paper by Dr. Thomas Rimmele and his team. Rimmele is the associate director at NSF’s National Solar Observatory (NSO), the organization responsible for building and operating the Inouye Solar Telescope. The paper is the first in a series of Inouye-related articles featured in Solar Physics. The paper details the optics, mechanical systems, instruments, operational plans, and scientific objectives of the Inouye Solar Telescope. Solar Physics will publish the remaining papers in early 2021.

“The sunspot image achieves a spatial resolution about 2.5 times higher than ever previously achieved, showing magnetic structures as small as 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) on the surface of the sun,” said Rimmele.

The image reveals striking details of the sunspot’s structure as seen at the Sun’s surface. The streaky appearance of hot and cool gas spidering out from the darker center is the result of sculpting by a convergence of intense magnetic fields and hot gasses boiling up from below.

The concentration of magnetic fields in this dark region suppresses heat within the Sun from reaching the surface. Although the dark area of the sunspot is cooler than the surrounding area of the Sun, it is still extremely hot with a temperature of more than 7,500 degrees Fahrenheit (4,150 degrees Celsius).

Inouye Solar Telescope Mount Assembly

The Telescope Mount Assembly of the Inouye Solar Telescope features its large 4-meter primary mirror. The telescope’s cooling system pipes coolant throughout the telescope, maintaining a stable temperature throughout the system. Credit: NSF/NSO/AURA

This sunspot image, measuring about 10,000 miles (16,000 kilometers) across, is just a tiny part of the Sun. However, the sunspot is large enough that Earth could comfortably fit inside.

Sunspots are the most visible representation of solar activity. Scientists know that the more sunspots that are visible on the Sun, the more active the Sun is. The Sun reached solar minimum, the time of fewest sunspots during its 11-year solar cycle, in December 2019. This sunspot was one of the first of the new solar cycle. Solar maximum for the current solar cycle is predicted in mid-2025.

“With this solar cycle just beginning, we also enter the era of the Inouye Solar Telescope,” says Dr. Matt Mountain, president of the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA), the organization that manages NSO and the Inouye Solar Telescope. “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 insights about the Sun’s activity.”

Sunspots, and associated solar flares and coronal mass ejections, cause many space weather events, which frequently impact the Earth, a consequence of living inside the extended atmosphere of a star. These events affect technological life on Earth. The magnetic fields associated with solar storms can impact power grids, communications, GPS navigation, air travel, satellites, and humans living in space. The Inouye Solar Telescope is poised to add important capabilities to the complement of tools optimized to study solar activity, particularly magnetic fields.

NSF’s Inouye Solar Telescope is located on the island of Maui in Hawaiʻi. Construction began in 2013 and is slated to be completed in 2021.

“While the start of telescope operations has been slightly delayed due to the impacts of the COVID-19 global pandemic,” said Dr. David Boboltz, NSF Program Director for the Inouye Solar Telescope, “this image represents an early preview of the unprecedented capabilities that the facility will bring to bear on our understanding of the Sun.”

Reference: “The Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope – Observatory Overview” by Thomas R. Rimmele, Mark Warner, Stephen L. Keil, Philip R. Goode, Michael Knölker, Jeffrey R. Kuhn, Robert R. Rosner, Joseph P. McMullin, Roberto Casini, Haosheng Lin, Friedrich Wöger, Oskar von der Lühe, Alexandra Tritschler, Alisdair Davey, Alfred de Wijn, David F. Elmore, André Fehlmann, David M. Harrington, Sarah A. Jaeggli, Mark P. Rast, Thomas A. Schad, Wolfgang Schmidt, Mihalis Mathioudakis, Donald L. Mickey, Tetsu Anan, Christian Beck, Heather K. Marshall, Paul F. Jeffers, Jacobus M. Oschmann Jr., Andrew Beard, David C. Berst, Bruce A. Cowan, Simon C. Craig, Eric Cross, Bryan K. Cummings, Colleen Donnelly, Jean-Benoit de Vanssay, Arthur D. Eigenbrot, Andrew Ferayorni, Christopher Foster, Chriselle Ann Galapon, Christopher Gedrites, Kerry Gonzales, Bret D. Goodrich, Brian S. Gregory, Stephanie S. Guzman, Stephen Guzzo, Steve Hegwer, Robert P. Hubbard, John R. Hubbard, Erik M. Johansson, Luke C. Johnson, Chen Liang, Mary Liang, Isaac McQuillen, Christopher Mayer, Karl Newman, Brialyn Onodera, LeEllen Phelps, Myles M. Puentes, Christopher Richards, Lukas M. Rimmele, Predrag Sekulic, Stephan R. Shimko, Brett E. Simison, Brett Smith, Erik Starman, Stacey R. Sueoka, Richard T. Summers, Aimee Szabo, Louis Szabo, Stephen B. Wampler, Timothy R. Williams and Charles White, 4 December 2020, Solar Physics.
DOI: 10.1007/s11207-020-01736-7

The Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope is a facility of the National Science Foundation operated by the National Solar Observatory under a cooperative agreement with the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Inc.  The Inouye Solar Telescope is located on land of spiritual and cultural significance to Native Hawaiian people.  The use of this important site to further scientific knowledge is done so with appreciation and respect.

1 Comment on "See the Incredible First Image of a Sunspot From the Inouye Solar Telescope"

  1. Sekar Vedaraman | December 14, 2020 at 3:58 pm | Reply

    Extremely Interesting.

    Let me state at the ouset and upfront that the “Technological Societty” is only at its infancy in my personal opinion.

    Sharing my thoughts and opinions on this star in our neighbourhood that we call the “SUN” , without which the existence of life as we know it may be iffy at best, but not as we imagine it to be. Views expressed Nor binding on oothers.

    1. It all started with a bearded old man called “Galileo” who invented a rudimentary telescope and trained it on the skies and discovered that we were not the centre of the known universe. The third rock from the sun on which we dwell on actually revolved around the “SUN” as did some other extra – earth- planetary objects! For this discovery and revelation he was perecuted by the authorities, labelled a heretic , & forced to recant his findings! This was the faint Restart of the Scientific and technological revolution to follow.

    2. WEll, it is 500 years later and there are many other “Gallileos” on the planet earth! Five hundred years is less than a blink of an eye in the estimated age of the universe! Hence the Infancy comment! Now that we have invented a better telescope, far far better if i may say so, to peer into these objects in our neighbourhood ( we call it the solar system) and the shining object around which we all revolve (both on the planets axis, so all life gets to see the shining object at regular frequency) as well as once around the shining object in a defined time-frame. Well done.

    3. About the new tool — ” Telescope” we have created using the ingenuity of the human species, which has taken only two decades of effort to better understand the shining object in the sky – Congratulations. In terms of capability it is miles ahead of the rudimentary tool the bearded old heretic had invented! It is protected from background radiation and can ” See” much better, thanks to brilliant minds in all areea of physics, engineering in both, as well as the many “lebonanized” Sciences and Applied sciences ! In terms of size this Telscope is similar to the huge archeological sites created in the past — across the globe. So first suggestion. Minituraize and expand caiability of the new tool with better and better versions. This too the human species seems to have developed capabilities which is commendable. In addition, there are other tools like the elctron microscope and others which can “See” process at the atomic level. Maybe combining this tools ( Telescopes) capability with the electron microscope or Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Machines, may help. Also , it is my personal belief that cycle times from conception, defining the SRD (two decades old) , design and development of the new tool needs to be (a) Faster & (2) aligned to the rapid advancement of science and applied science. SRD with appertue width of 4 mm, when others are working on 8 mm and ideally 24mm is warranted or maybe even 48 mm will ensure that the tools created are always behind the curve! Love the curve ball in Baseball!

    4. Now the ever enterprising British (not just a nation of shopkeepers!) have sent a space mission to take a much closer look at the shining object in the sky! There are “Sunsppots” on this “Star” in the sky — which appear to be protective in nature stopping the most harmful rays from reaching the various rocks and gaseous planets it has given birth to , which also appear to have given a number of other planetary objects and sattelites revolving around them from these destructive rays some protection for life to evolve over millions of years. There are Sun flares which if they can increase in intensity could wipe out the “Technological Society” along with all the species of life in a jiffy! The British want to study these Balck Swann events like the sun flares and understand the processes (fusion and maybe others occuring in the sun) which give us life sustaining rays and sustain life as we know it , but could also pose a risk cause harm. So Risk Management becomes important.

    5. We are monitoring asteroids and other rocks , some with a tail (comets) and some without a tail traversing our universe and based on its travel patterns are able to predict its arrival and likely impact / non- imact on earth today. We monitor the eclipses when one of these other planetary objects in the solar system come in front of the shining object in the sky and also very accurately. [ ASIDE So if we have better eyes and technology and mathematics we can probably predict the orbital patterns of these asteroids and comets that these objects traverse in the Milky Way, Galaxy. and the Universe accurately as well!!

    6. Getting back to the SUN, some Risk Management Prevention Technologies one can explore and take for Black Swant Events like Sunflares.
    (a) Monitor the complete Solar Cycle and gather sufficient data about the events happening in the closest star.
    (b) Probably the ” Coronal Magnetic Field ” is Probably very much stronger than the Magnetic Fields of its Progeny as well as the moons , the sattelites revolving around the planets. This Magnetic Field of the planet and the Ozone layer provides a protective shield from the harmful UV rays which has enabled life to thrive on earth. I suspect , cant prove it currently, that the Stars are normally born as CNO rich Stars —–and All elements we are currently aware of, and others yet to be discovered, are expelled from the Core of the star —-(maybe – we dont know the archeological history of our own personal star, or our SUNS elemental Composistion . but my guess it must either have none, —- or our detection capability is being clouded by the fusion and other processes occuring in the SUN) —–and this expulsion from the stars core –gives rise to the planets and other satellites (Moons) revolving around the Planets! This forms the solar system! Over time these stars become a Hydrogen-Hydrogen Dominant Star. These Two Types of stars Neutrino Poduction and characterstics has already been discussed earlier. Dont know about the deatils of the existence of other types of Stars. FIGURE out, how the Cool Sunspots provide a protective shield from harmful UV raysb and othes in the light spectrum and use that technology to figure out how to strngthen the Magnetic Field of the third Rock from the sun — which is weakening and Changes (Reverses) its Polarity periodically ( North South — currently – over time, without causing an immbalance to the other outcasts from the SUNS Core!). Wouldn’t that be real COOL guys!

    (c) Construct , better and better Telescopes with electron microscope technology integrated and or Nuclear Magbetic Technology integrated to look at events occuring at distant obejects (which are actually fairly close in Universe terms , and understand how to prediict the impact of such processes occuring at the atomic level.
    (d) Also next Space Ship (2025) should explore the possibility of non-CNO and Water based ife forms existence on the surface or core of the nearsest satr (highly unlikely) but doing so will provide a benchmmark for comprisoon with nearby stars! ASIDE [Ancient scriptures in Vedic texts actually predict that ancestors souls travel to the other worlds before becoming an an integral part of the SUN depending on the individual souls Karmas . Difficult to prove!]
    (e) Other similar improvement suggestions include, increasing polarization accuracy with alogorithms, extending the integrated capability of the integrated tool to include the Ultra Violat Spectrum . Fuure spece-trekkes will need such tools!
    (f) Create a new SRD documeent with apperture at 24 or 48 apperture. Build it and after miniturization is in place and place it on satelites and space ships of the future and communicate the information it gathers, back to Earth/ Home base where ever established iincluding space-station!

    (g) Adapt flexible design and production technologies aligned with the cycle time of creation of such tools and ALSO aligned with future exploration efforts to ensure State of Art technology is carried on these launch efforts. If one can build the ability to adapt and incorporate the latest technology capabilities on board with remote commands from Home base it would be great advantage and cost saver! This would be essentail for Long gestation space travel!

    Best of luck in this interesting effort to explore the neighbourhood.Make such practises an essentail requirement going forward by weighing rsiks and benefits carefully.

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