Impressive observations: the boiling sun

Whe in the home pot, when the heat is brought up in the boiling broth in so-called convection cells, it also looks on our sun. The only difference is that the individual cells are not just a few centimeters in size, but are the size of the American state of Texas and are therefore twice as large as Germany. The physical properties in the region shown – huge magnetic fields, temperatures of several thousand degrees – are so extreme that they cannot be reproduced in any earthly laboratory.

The Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope of the American National Science Foundation took this picture, which shows the surface of the sun with a spatial resolution never before achieved. The four-meter telescope is located at an altitude of 3067 meters near the summit of the Haleakala volcano on the island of Maui, Hawaii. The observations show the instrumental potential of the newly commissioned telescope and, as the first observations of the scientific verification phase, are not yet linked to any specific research project.

The film is based on a ten-minute recording at a wavelength of 705 nanometers. Details of up to 30 kilometers are visible in the swelling gas. Convective energy transport – transport that is linked to the movement of matter – is the most efficient form of heat transfer. Hot plasma rises in the bright centers of the cells and sinks down again at the dark edges. The bright areas on the edges mark the occurrence of strong magnetic fields, so-called flux tubes, which play a central role in transporting energy to higher regions of the solar atmosphere, the corona, and thus have a decisive influence on solar activity.

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Observing the structures of the magnetic field on the sun’s surface and in its outer atmosphere is the telescope’s scientific goal. In particular, it should be clarified how the magnetic fields arise and are destroyed again, how they interact with the plasma and what influence all this has on the temporal solar variability. Answers to these questions are not only interesting for understanding our sun, they can also help to understand numerous other cosmic phenomena in which magnetic fields play an important role, such as the formation of stars or the interaction of galaxy clusters.

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