This image is the first high-resolution shot from the 4-metre Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope in Hawai’i.
Though it’s the nearest star to Earth, the Sun is still a mystery, and understanding its behaviours—specifically the behaviours that manifest as space weather here on Earth—has proven difficult. The Inouye Solar Telescope’s core goals include imaging the Sun’s magnetic field in greater detail than ever before.
“On Earth, we can predict if it is going to rain pretty much anywhere in the world very accurately, and space weather just isn’t there yet,” Matt Mountain, president of the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, which manages the Inouye Solar Telescope, said in a press release. The Inouye Solar Telescope is meant improve space weather predictions.
The telescope on Haleakala, Maui in Hawai’i relies on a 4-metre mirror, the largest yet for a solar telescope, and requires an advanced cooling system to prevent overheating from focusing all of that sunlight. The cooling system, in part, comes from ice on site. Optics remove distortions from the atmosphere, while a dome temperature-controls the area around the telescope and a component called the “heat stop” filters out excess energy.
The first image and video released today show gas circulating around the Sun. Heat brings the gas to the surface at the bright centre of each cell, which then spreads out and descends back beneath the surface at the dark lines. Each cell is approximately the size of Texas, according to a National Solar Observatory press release. The movie shows the process occurring over 10 minutes.
Like other telescopes on the Hawaiian islands, the Inouye Solar Telescope was met with resistance from local Hawaiians, as the site on which it sits is considered sacred ground. Science reports that the circumstances surrounding the Inouye Solar Telescope differ slightly from the controversial Thirty Metre Telescope. For example, it’s much smaller, much of the Inouye Solar Telescope’s construction progress was done in private, and the military-guarded national park atop Haleakala made it more difficult for protestors to access.
This image won’t be used for scientific research; the team will still be testing and calibrating the telescope over the next six months. After, researchers will combine Inouye Solar Telescope data with data from NASA’s Parker Solar Probe and the upcoming European Space Agency/NASA Solar Orbiter to paint a fuller picture of how the Sun works.