This solar telescope just released its first close-up video of the Sun — and it’s stunning

The solar weather report

The Sun converts five million tons of hydrogen fuel into energy every second, and that energy is driven, over the course of hundreds of thousands of years, from the core of the Sun to the surface. Eight minutes later, a small portion of that energy lands on Earth, driving terrestrial weather, affecting the chemistry of the world, and driving nearly all life on the planet.

Each individual cell seen in the video carrying heat from the inside of the Sun to the surface is roughly the size of Texas. Hot solar plasma rises from below the bright center of these cells, before it cools and falls back into the Sun, producing the dark edges of the cells seen in the video.

Our understanding of how the Sun operates and how conditions there affect our own world has evolved over time. During the 1950’s, astronomers discovered the solar wind, which permeates the Solar System. Later research revealed a tenuous outer solar atmosphere extends beyond the orbit of the Earth.

Space weather, driven by solar activity, can affect conditions on Earth. Magnetic forces produced by the Sun can form solar storms, disrupting air travel, disturbing GPS and cellular communications, and impacting electrical systems. As human society becomes ever-more dependent on technology, understanding space weather grows increasing critical for civilization.

Plasma is seen racing out like ribbons from the Sun.
Hot, energetic plasma traces out lines dictated by the immense magnetic field of the Sun. Image credit: NSO/NSF

“On Earth, we can predict if it is going to rain pretty much anywhere in the world very accurately, and space weather just isn’t there yet. Our predictions lag behind terrestrial weather by 50 years, if not more. What we need is to grasp the underlying physics behind space weather, and this starts at the sun, which is what the Inouye Solar Telescope will study over the next decades,” said Matt Mountain, president of the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, which manages the Inouye Solar Telescope.

During Hurricane Irma in 2017, a space weather event impacted communications used by first responders, as well as aviation and maritime channels, hampering emergency effort just hours before the storm made landfall.