The Sun is the star at the center of the Solar System. It is the most important source of life on earth. It is a nearly perfect sphere of hot plasma. Its surface temperature is about 5800 K. If you are more comfortable with degree celsius, that’s about 5500 C. To put that into perspective, the highest temperature recorded on earth was about 330 K (about 57 C). The total surface area of Sun is about 12,000 times that of Earth. The escape velocity from the surface of Sun is 618 km/s (55 times that on Earth). Escape velocity is the minimum velocity an object must possess so that it escapes from the gravitational influence of a heavenly body. And even though it is 93 million miles away and light from the Sun takes 8 minutes to reach us here on earth, you should never ever look at the sun as that will cause irreparable damage to your eyes. Think we know enough about the sun? No, we know very little about our source of energy, our source of motion in space, the Sun. But there’s some good news now.
The Daniel K Inouye Solar Telescope (DKIST) on the summit of Haleakala, Maui (“Best Island in the USA”) in Hawaii, released the pictures that show details as small as 30 km across the sun. These regions are called ‘cells’ and are made of churning solar plasma which is heated at over 5500 degrees celsius. These are the highest resolution images of the sun. These structures rise up from below, create a brief bright center and after cooling off, sink back down into the cracks. The cell-like structures are roughly the size of the state of Texas.
This $344 million telescope has a 13-foot mirror, the world’s largest for a solar telescope. The 13-story facility sits near the 10,000-foot summit of Haleakala, Maui (Hawaiian Island). By the way, Haleakala means “house of the sun”. Appropriate, isn’t it!
But Inouye telescope isn’t alone in studying the sun. While data from Inouye focuses on the sun’s magnetic field, it will be combined with physical observations by NASA’s Parker Solar Probe, launched in 2018, and the Solar Orbiter, a joint mission by NASA and the European Space Agency which takes off in early February 2020. More excitement is in store in 2020 from outer space. Watch out.
You can download the high resolution image from National Science Foundation website.