Captured on January 28, 2020, this is the first image of a sunspot by the National Science Foundation’s Inouye Solar Telescope located near the summit of Haleakalā in Maui, Hawaiʻi. The image reveals striking details of the sunspot’s structure as seen at the Sun’s surface, and has over twice the detail previously achieved by any other observatory!
“The sunspot image achieves a spatial resolution about 2.5 times higher than ever previously achieved, showing magnetic structures as small as 20 kilometers on the surface of the sun.”Dr. Thomas Rimmele, associate director at the National Solar Observatory
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.
Below is an animation of the sunspot comprising about one and a half minutes of real time. The motions of photospheric structures are very subtle at that short span, but you can discern it if you expand to full screen and enable HD:
This sunspot, measuring about 10,000 miles across in its entirety, is just a tiny part of the Sun. But it’s large enough that our 7,917-mile-wide Earth could easily 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.
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. Construction on the telescope began in 2013 and is slated to be completed in 2021.