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Wednesday, 13 November, 2002, 19:01 GMT
Close up on sunspots
Institute for Solar Physics
The Sun's surface in unprecedented detail

These are the most detailed pictures ever taken of the surface of the Sun. They have been described as a breakthrough in observational solar physics.

They were obtained by the new Swedish 1-metre solar telescope on the Canary Island of La Palma. The images show new solar features and hitherto unknown details in sunspots.

Institute for Solar Physics
Catching the Sun's rays
A striking feature in the images of sunspots is the existence of dark cores within bright filaments. This is an unexpected discovery and astronomers are uncertain what it signifies.

Published in the journal Nature, the new observations realise a long-stated goal for solar observers to see the solar surface at a resolution better than 100 kilometres.

It is believed that fundamental processes in the Sun's atmosphere take place on such scales.

Open in new window : Close-up view
Click here for an enlarged view of the new images

To obtain the detailed view, the telescope's tube is evacuated and a mirror in the beam adjusts its shape a thousand times a second to counteract atmospheric blurring.

Sunspots are regions with strong magnetic fields. A sufficiently large sunspot consists of a dark umbra, which is the coolest part of a sunspot, surrounded by a brighter penumbra.

The penumbra appears to consist of thin, long filaments that have remained unresolved by solar telescopes until now.

See also:

07 Nov 01 | Science/Nature
22 Sep 00 | Science/Nature
15 Nov 99 | Science/Nature
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