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Behold, the Clearest Photo of a Sunspot Ever Taken

Illustration for article titled Behold, the Clearest Photo of a Sunspot Ever Taken

Why don't you go ahead and let this one sink in. Bask in it, if you will. We'll wait.

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The unprecedented view was recently released by scientists at Big Bear Solar Observatory in the mountains of East L.A. Imaged by the New Solar Telescope (aka the "NST"), the photograph is among the first to be captured by the NST's newly equipped Visible Imaging Spectrometer (VIS). It is the new record-holder for most detailed sunspot ever obtained in visible light (the outgoing champion was also photographed by the NST back in 2010). The 1.6-meter telescope, despite its name, has been making observations for close to five years now.

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"With [VIS], the [layers of the] solar atmosphere from the photosphere to the chromosphere can be monitored in a near real time," said Wenda Cao, Associate Professor of Physics at the New Jersey Institute of Technology and BBSO Associate Director, in a statement.

"With the unprecedented resolution of BBSO's NST, many previously unknown small-scale sunspot features can now be perceived," said Cao. In the image above, for example, researchers are particularly interested in the interface that connects the sunspot's dark core (the umbra) and the bright, petal-like tendrils of energy that surround it (the penumbra).

[Big Bear Solar Observatory]

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DISCUSSION

Here's a question that always bugged me. These things look very much like the interior and the exterior exist at different altitudes, but since everything emits light, there are no shadows to determine whether they are intrusions or extrusions. Are we seeing a bump on the surface of the sun or a hole into its subsurface, or are they texture differences on a roiling, but generally level surface?