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The Sun’s Turbulent Surface

New, powerful telescopic images reveal the sun’s massive energy.

All is not calm on the sun. New images released at the end of January, which the National Science Foundation says are the star’s most detailed close-ups, show turbulent solar plasma: Charged particles that rise to the surface of the star, forming convection cells the size of Texas, which cool and descend back into the sun’s depths.

The images, from the nearly complete Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope, are the most zoomed-in examinations of that turbulence. They reveal structures as small as 18.6 miles on the surface of the sun. Those details are five times smaller than any solar image captured before, Thomas Rimmele, the telescope’s director, told reporters. (The sun is nearly 870,000 miles in diameter.)

This is the “largest, most powerful solar telescope in the world,” Rimmele said. It will help astronomers understand the sun’s magnetic field and its atmosphere, known as its corona, more fully.

The Inouye telescope will be finished in June, while the astronomers prep to catch the next hot spot cycle on the sun.

This was adapted from an article by Ben Guarino in the Feb. 2 Washington Post.