pulse Report This Comment
Date: January 30, 2020 05:29AM
Astronomers have just released the highest-resolution image of the sun. Taken by
the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope in Maui, it gives us an unprecedented view
of our nearest star and brings us closer to solving several long-standing
The new image demonstrates the telescope’s potential power. It shows off a
surface that’s divided up into discrete, Texas-size cells, like cracked
sections in the desert soil. You can see plasma oozing off the surface, rising
into the air before sinking back into darker lanes.
“We have now seen the smallest details on the largest object in our solar
system,” says Thomas Rimmele, the director of DKIST. The new image was taken
December 10, when the telescope achieved first light. It is still technically
under construction, with three more instruments set to come online.
When formal observations begin in July, DKIST, with its 13-foot mirror, will be
the most powerful solar telescope in the world. Located on Haleakalā (the
tallest summit on Maui), the telescope will be able to observe structures on the
surface of the sun as small as 18.5 miles (30 kilometers). This resolution is
over five times better than that of DKIST’s predecessor, the Richard B. Dunn
Solar Telescope in New Mexico.
DKIST was specifically designed to make precise measurements of the sun’s
magnetic field throughout the corona (the outermost region of its atmosphere)
and answer questions like why the corona is millions of degrees hotter than the
Each of the "cells" on the surface of the sun are roughly the size of
Texas. The resolution of DKIST is about 18.5 miles.
Other instruments coming online in the next six months will also collect data
pertaining to temperature, velocity, and solar structures. The new solar cycle
is about to start up again soon, and this means there’s going to be a wealth
of solar activity to spot.
To observe the sun, you can’t just build a telescope the old-fashioned way.
DKIST boasts one of the world’s most complex solar-adaptive optics systems. It
uses deformable mirrors to offset distortions caused by Earth’s atmosphere.
The shape of the mirror adjusts 2,000 times per second. Staring at the sun also
makes the telescope hot enough to melt metal. To cool it down, the DKIST team
has to use a swimming pool of ice and 7.5 miles of pipe-distributed coolant.
There’s a good reason why we need to take a closer look at the sun. When the
solar atmosphere releases its magnetic energy, it results in explosive phenomena
like solar flares that hurl ultra-energized particles through the solar system
in all directions, including ours. This “space weather” can wreak havoc on
things like GPS and electrical grids. Learning more about solar activity could
give us more notice of when hazardous space weather is due to hit.
The telescope’s history is not without controversy. Haleakalā is important to
the culture of Native Hawaiians, who protested its construction of DKIST in the
summer of 2015. The DKIST team addressed those concerns in various ways, such as
launching a $20 million program at Maui College to teach science in conjunction
with Hawaiian culture, and reserving 2% of telescope time for Native
The plan is to keep DKIST operational for at least four solar cycles, or around
44 years. “We’re now in the final sprint of what has been a very long
marathon,” says Rimmele. “These first images are really just the very
fossil_digger Report This Comment
Date: January 30, 2020 02:57PM
made my plants go....BOINGGGGGGGG!
pulse Report This Comment
Date: January 31, 2020 01:06AM
She looks stoned.