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First images released from Inouye Solar Telescope

The first images taken by the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope were released Wednesday, the most detailed photos of the sun to date. The image shows a pattern of turbulent, “boiling” gas that covers the entire sun. The cell-like structures -- each about the size of Texas -- are the signature of violent motions that transport heat from the inside of the sun to its surface. Hot solar material (plasma) rises in the bright centers of “cells,” cools off and then sinks below the surface in dark lanes in a process known as convection. NSO/AURA/NSF photo

The first images taken from the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope atop Haleakala have been released, providing scientists with the most detailed picture of the sun available to date.

The image provide a close-up view of turbulent “boiling” plasma that covers the entire sun. The cell-like structures – each about the size of Texas – are the signature of violent motions that transport heat from the inside of the sun to its surface, the National Science Foundation said Wednesday. The hot solar plasma rises in the bright centers of “cells,” cools off and then sinks below the surface in dark lanes in a process known as convection.

“This image is just the beginning,” said David Boboltz, program director in NSF’s division of astronomical sciences and who oversees the facility’s construction and operations. “The Inouye Solar Telescope will collect more information about our sun during the first 5 years of its lifetime than all the solar data gathered since Galileo first pointed a telescope at the sun in 1612.”

Activity on the sun, known as space weather, can affect systems on Earth. Magnetic eruptions on the sun can impact air travel, disrupt satellite communications and bring down power grids, causing long-lasting blackouts and disabling technologies such as GPS.

Scientists still don’t know much about the sun’s most vital processes, and the Inouye Solar Telescope – the largest and most advanced solar telescope in the world – could help to shed some light. Working with space-based solar observation tools, it will help expand solar research and improve scientists’ abilities to predict solar weather.

While heralded by the scientific community, the Inouye Solar Telescope is perhaps the most controversial of the observatories atop Haleakala. Hundreds of protesters have gathered to block delivery of the telescope parts to the summit in recent years, saying it would further desecrate a summit that many consider sacred. Native Hawaiian groups battled the telescope in court for years until the Hawaii Supreme Court upheld the telescope’s permit in 2016.