NSF Inouye Solar Telescope shows surface of sun in HD

The very first images from the National Science Foundation Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope have been released. The photos give unprecedented detail of the surface of the sun and preview some of the work to come from the 4-meter solar telescope. The Inouye telescope sits on the summit of Haleakala in Maui, Hawaii.Scientists say that the telescope will enable a new era in solar science and help researchers to move forward in understanding the sun and the impact it has on the Earth. Solar activity is known as space weather and can affect systems on Earth. Magnetic eruption on the sun can impact air travel, disrupt satellite communications, and could bring down power grids.

The first images from the telescope show a close-up view of the sun's surface. The images show turbulent "boiling" plasma that covers the entire sun. Cell-like structures seen in the images are each about the size of the state of Texas. The cell-like structures are the signature of violent motions that transport heat from the interior of the sun to its surface.

Hot solar plasma rises in the center of the cells and then cools off and sinks below the surface in dark lines. The process is known as convection. Scientists working with the telescope hope that the data gathered will help scientists understand some of the processes of the sun that still confound science today.

One area of intense study will be solar magnetic fields. The telescope's ability to resolve those tiny magnetic features is what makes the Inouye telescope unique. The telescope will also greatly expand the ability to warn Earth of pending solar weather that will disrupt critical systems. Currently, the Earth has 48 minutes warning. The telescope could give warnings as much as 48 hours ahead of time.