Ultra closeup view of sun's surface offers unprecedented detail

It's the highest-resolution image of the sun's surface ever captured.

James Martin Managing Editor, Photography
James Martin is the Managing Editor of Photography at CNET. His photos capture technology's impact on society - from the widening wealth gap in San Francisco, to the European refugee crisis and Rwanda's efforts to improve health care. From the technology pioneers of Google and Facebook, photographing Apple's Steve Jobs and Tim Cook, Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg and Google's Sundar Pichai, to the most groundbreaking launches at Apple and NASA, his is a dream job for any documentary photography and journalist with a love for technology. Exhibited widely, syndicated and reprinted thousands of times over the years, James follows the people and places behind the technology changing our world, bringing their stories and ideas to life.
Expertise Photojournalism | Portrait photography | Behind-the-scenes Credentials
  • 2021 Graphis Photography Awards, Gold Award, Journalism, 'The Doorway' Graphis Photography Awards, Silver Award, Portrait, 'Cast of film '1917'' Graphis Photography Awards, Silver Award, Environmental, 'Upper Lola Montez' ND Awards, Architecture, 'Taj Mah
James Martin
2 min read

From the summit of 10,000-foot Haleakala in Hawaii, 93 million miles away from the sun, the National Science Foundation's Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope has delivered its first look at our mass of incandescent gas, with never-before-seen detail.

In the highest-resolution image of the sun's surface ever captured, features as small as 18 miles across are visible for the first time. The churning plasma of our nearest star resembles cellularlike formations, each one about the size of the US state of Texas. The Inouye Solar Telescope allows scientists a look at features on the sun that are three times smaller than anything visible before now.


Hot shot.


This closeup look is just the beginning of the new telescope's observations of the churning ball of million-degree plasma. The National Science Foundation says that during the first five years of the instrument's lifetime, the Inouye Solar Telescope is expected to collect more information about our sun's explosive behavior than all the solar data gathered since Galileo first pointed a telescope at the sun in 1612. 

A gigantic nuclear furnace, the sun burns 5 million tons of hydrogen fuel every second and makes our life on Earth possible. With its 4-meter f/2 aperture -- the largest aperture of any solar telescope -- the hope is that this telescope will be able to map the magnetic fields within the sun's corona and help scientists better understand how changes can impact life on Earth. 

Captured on Dec. 10, 2019, this first image marks an informal start for the Inouye Solar Telescope, which is technically still under construction. When it formally begins operation, the 13-foot mirrored telescope will be the most powerful solar telescope in the world.

Not until July 2020 will the newest solar imaging officially come online.

Watch this: NASA's Parker Probe: Everything you need to know about the plan to 'touch the sun'

32 amazing photos of solar eclipses (pictures)

See all photos