Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Sunspot: Sharpest View Yet in Visible Light

This crisp view of a sunspot, captured by New Jersey Institute of Technology's New Solar Telescope and released last week, may be the most detailed picture of its kind yet shot in visible light, astronomers say.

The 5.25-foot (1.6-meter) telescope, which became operational in January 2009, sits at the school's Big Bear Solar Observatory in the San Bernardino Mountains of California. The device uses a special deformable mirror (part of what's called an adaptive optics system) to compensate for atmospheric distortions and produce ground-based images with about the same clarity as shots from orbiting observatories, experts say.

High-resolution sunspot pictures in many types of light help scientists better understand solar storms and space weather, which can disrupt navigation and communication systems on Earth and expose people in spacecraft or airplanes to potentially harmful radiation.(Read more about the expected solar storm that will hit earth within two years).

"With visible light, we can see very detailed structures on the sun's surface," said William Dean Pesnell, project scientist for NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory.

A different view of the sunspot seen in the previous picture reveals dark jets of energy flowing from the spot's bright edges.

Sunspots are regions of intense magnetic activity on the sun's surface. This activity cools a region of surface material as compared with its surroundings, which is why the spots appear dark in visible light.

The angle of this shot, taken July 1, shows magnetic activity in the sun's atmosphere 1,000 miles (1,609 kilometers) higher than in the previous frame, captured July 2.

Images courtesy BBSO/NJIT.

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