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Scientists unveil most detailed images of sun’s surface showing “boiling” plasma

The Sun’s surface, imagined to be like a sprouting volcano, is indeed entirely “turbulent ‘boiling’ plasma”. This discovery was announced yesterday by researchers who captured photographs of the Sun’s surface with unprecedented detail using the Daniel K. Inouye Solar (DKIS) Telescope in Maui, Hawaii.

The set of images show a close-up view of the Sun’s surface, revealing a gold-coloured cell-like pattern. The cell-like structures that appear to be ‘boiling’ indicate motions that transport heat from the Sun’s interior to its surface via convection.

Scientists believe that the photographs can help measure and understand the Sun’s magnetic field. This can help predict disruptive space weather events, like the one during the 2017 Hurricane Irma which brought down radio communications for eight hours. A better understanding of the solar magnetic field can help increase the current warning time by over 70 times, and help secure power grids and critical infrastructure.

“It’s all about the magnetic field,” said Thomas Rimmele, director of the Inouye Solar Telescope in a release. “To unravel the Sun’s biggest mysteries, we have to not only be able to clearly see these tiny structures from 93 million miles away but very precisely measure their magnetic field strength and direction near the surface and trace the field as it extends out into the million-degree corona, the outer atmosphere of the Sun.”

The Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope boasts a 4-metre mirror, the world’s largest for a solar telescope, providing the sharpest high-resolution images of the Sun. For the next six months, scientists at the National Science Foundation, U.S. which hosts the DKIS telescope, hope to continue working on the telescope to make it ready for use by the international solar science community.

“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,” said David Boboltz, program director in NSF’s division of astronomical sciences.

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