Sunspots Look Like the Mouths of DUNE’s Sandworms

Astronomers recently captured some of the highest resolution images of the Sun ever taken. They show the surface of the Sun in stunning detail, and offer close-up looks at phenomena such as sunspots. Up close, those apparently look like the mouths of sandworms from Dune.

Image of a sunspot taken by a solar telescope

The image of the sunspot above was taken by the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope near the 10,000-foot-high summit of Haleakalā in Maui. The sunspot itself is about 5,000 miles across, and each golden nugget surrounding it is roughly the size of Texas. Remarkably, the telescope can see details as small as 18 miles across. It, along with the probe NASA recently used to collect samples from the Sun, will likely lead to many new discoveries about the star we orbit.

Infographic showing the scale of solar telescope images

Astronomers utilizing GREGOR, the largest solar telescope in Europe, also recently shared images. They described their work in a press release from the Leibniz Institute for Solar Physics (KIS). In the KIS release, which comes via Futurism, the astronomers discussed their paper in Astronomy & Astrophysics outlining how they revamped GREGOR over the last year.

“This was a very exciting but also extremely challenging project,” Dr. Lucia Kleint said in the KIS release. Kleint, a senior researcher and professor at KIS, led the revamp of GREGOR. “In only one year, we completely redesigned the optics, mechanics, and electronics to achieve the best possible image quality,” Kleint added.

These new close-up images of sunspots look like sandworm mouths from Dune.

The GIF above shows one of the sunspots Kleint and her team captured. It’s unclear how large this particular sunspot is, but they range from roughly 1,000 to 31,000 miles in diameter. In general, GREGOR is able to image details as small as 31 miles in diameter. For reference, the astronomers say this would be “as if one saw a needle on a soccer field perfectly sharp from a distance of one kilometer [or .62 miles].” And, as mentioned above, our ability to image the sun is only improving.

Kleint et al. were also able to capture the “intricate structures of solar magnetic fields” in high resolution. For those unfamiliar, electrical currents inside the Sun generate a magnetic field that surges and ebbs cyclically, causing violent activity on the star’s surface. GREGOR’s close-up image of one of those structures is immediately below.

These new close-up images of sunspots look like sandworm mouths from Dune.

By studying the Sun’s magnetic fields, astronomers hope to gain a better understanding of their influence on Earth. This will be important for guarding our technological infrastructure, including satellites, the astronomers say. No word yet on whether or not anyone has been worthy enough to ride the mighty sunspot.

Originally published September 9, 2020.

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