The Boiling Sun

Living with a star, our Sun, is something we do every day. Of course, most of us just bask in the sunlight when it’s available. But, for solar physicists, the astronomers who study the Sun, our star presents a great opportunity to delve deeper into what makes it tick. Or, in the case of some recently released images and vids, what makes it look like a boiling Sun.

The Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope on the Hawaiian island of Maui is the latest giant telescope to turn its high-resolution instruments to look at our Sun. The video below shows a view of the Sun that we’d never see if we were to travel to it. But, the telescope is sensitive to light beyond the spectrum that we can see (which is a range between 400 and 700 nanometers). This view is of light that radiates at 705 nanometers, so just beyond what we can see.

Why a Boiling Sun?

What’s happening here? Well, we know the Sun is hot at its core, where it’s more than 15 million degrees! That heat travels out from the center and is released at the surface, called the chromosphere. There, we see a turbulent motion in the gases that make up the Sun’s atmosphere. That action is what makes it look like a boiling Sun in the video.

Those cells of superhot gases are a cooling mechanism. They bring the heat up from beneath the solar surface and then release it. It’s the way our star sends heat out to the rest of the solar system. Watch the video for a short bit and it might remind you of boiling fudge, or syrup on the stove. Those also operate under the same principle of heat “release”.

On the Sun, the heat rises up from this region into space through the outer layers of the Sun’s atmosphere. Temperatures there are about 6,000 C (10,800 F). A funny thing happens above the surface—the heat steadily rises until it’s more than a million degrees in the uppermost region called the corona. Solar scientists are busily figuring out why this superheating happens, and they know that solar magnetic fields are somehow involved.

The interesting thing about this video (and the images from DIST) is that these are the sharpest images of the boiling surface of the Sun ever taken. And, they were taken from Earth! Want to know more about this telescope and see additional images? Check out their website here.

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The Boiling Sun