It's official. The next-generation Inouye Solar Telescope in Hawaii is off and running. The telescope got an inauguration celebration at the end of August, and the National Solar Observatory research institute celebrated the occasion by releasing two spectacular Inouye views of our host star this week.
NSO calls Inouye the world's most powerful solar telescope, and it's able to observe the sun at an extreme level of detail. "A new era of solar physics is beginning," said Matt Mountain, president of the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA) in a statement.
One of the images, which looks like a close-up of a shag carpet or an animal's swirly fur, shows the sun's atmosphere above the surface, known as the chromosphere. The image covers an area 51,300 miles (82,500 kilometers) across. The NSO also released a version with Earth superimposed on it to give an idea of the scale.
Inouye promises to give us a new, deeper understanding of our temperamental star. "Its insights will transform how our nation, and the planet, predict and prepare for events like solar storms," said Sethuraman Panchanathan, director of the National Science Foundation, which funds the telescope.
A second image taken on June 3 shows the surface of the sun. This view has a more regular appearance than the chromosphere, but looks equally wild and weird, like gazing at sand under a microscope.
We've been getting teaser images from Inouye for years, includingin 2020. The telescope has been in a commissioning phase for nearly a year as researchers put it through its paces.
Earth has a complex relationship with its star. The sun has been particularly peppy lately,that can spark lovely auroras but that also can cause disruptions to spacecraft and satellites. Inouye could become a sort of sun-whisperer, helping us to understand its movements and moods and how it can impact our planet. The stunning new images hint at what's to come.