Unprecedented images reveal what happens as the Sun approaches “solar maximum”.

(CNN) — New images of the Sun’s surface taken by a powerful ground-based solar telescope have revealed sunspots and other features in unprecedented detail.

Eight images published on May 19, 2023, courtesy of the National Science Foundation’s Daniel K. Taken by the Inoue Solar Telescope, a 4-meter telescope located on the island of Maui, Hawaii.

Although The Sun is more and more active As the July 2025 solar maximum approaches, the high point of the 11-year solar cycle, the photos show quieter features of the solar surface.

Cool, dark sunspots are the Sun’s surface where the magnetic field is strongest, spots on the photosphere and can be Earth-sized or larger. Clusters of sunspots are responsible for solar flares and coronal mass ejections, which occur when part of the plasma and magnetic field separates from the Sun’s outer atmosphere and passes through the Solar System.

These energetic bursts from the Sun can disrupt Earth’s satellite communications.

The sunspot regions shown in the images are a study in contrast. The hot, bright plasma flows to the surface of the Sun, while the dark, cool plasma flows below. In the chromosphere, the atmospheric layer above the surface, thread-like structures reveal the presence of magnetic fields.

Fine, detailed structures can be seen in dark sunspots, including bright spots where the magnetic field is strong. Bright filaments derived from the magnetic field, known as penumbral filaments, carry heat and orbit the sunspot.

Spots and filaments shine in and around the sunspot. (Credit: NSF/AURA/NSO)

Another image shows a sunspot that has lost its bright surrounding region, or penumbra, and appears to be receding. Researchers believe that the remaining fragments may be the end point of the sunspot’s evolution.

The telescope captured what scientists believe is a decaying sunspot. (Credit: NSF/AURA/NSO)

The Inouye Solar Telescope caught a glimpse of “light bridges,” bright solar features cut across the darkest part of the sunspot. These complex structures may look strange, but scientists believe that the light bridges may indicate that a sunspot is about to disappear. Future observations could provide more information about the formation of light bridges and their meaning.

A bridge of light crosses a dark sunspot. (Credit: NSF/AURA/NSO)

According to the National Science Foundation, the images taken last year were among the first observations made by the world’s largest and most powerful ground-based solar telescope. According to the agency, the telescope is currently being tuned to reach its full operational potential.

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Scientists believe the telescope’s capabilities will allow them to answer key questions about the Sun, including the origin of solar storms, as well as unravel the complexities of its magnetic field.

The telescope is designed to make continuous measurements of the solar coronal magnetic fields and provide unprecedented images of the solar atmosphere. Compared to the imaging capabilities of other observatories, Inouye can image solar features three times smaller.

Solar data from the Inouye Solar Telescope, two spacecraft called the Solar Orbiter and the Parker Solar Probe, will help unlock some of the sun’s enduring mysteries, while providing stunning views of our star in new light.

Misty Tate

"Freelance twitter advocate. Hardcore food nerd. Avid writer. Infuriatingly humble problem solver."

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