The American telescope DKIST has received the most detailed photographs of the Sun's surface to date, the study of which will help astronomers decipher the data that the Parker Solar Probe collects when flying through the atmosphere of the star. This was reported on Wednesday by the press service of the US National Science Foundation (NSF).
"The magnetic field of the luminary still remains the main stumbling block for us. To reveal all the most important secrets of the Sun, we must not only examine its smallest details from a distance of 150 million km, but also very accurately measure the strength and direction of the magnetic field both at the surface and in in the vicinity of the glowing atmosphere of the luminary, "said Tomass Rimmele, DKIST project manager, quoted by the NSF press service.
The sun is a ball of boiling plasma, the upper layers of which are constantly "mixed", which, combined with the high electrical conductivity of its matter, creates a strong magnetic field. The lines of this field often go beyond the denser layers of the Sun and break, which leads to the appearance of spots, flares and powerful coronal ejections, potentially capable of destroying civilization and all life on Earth.
Scientists cannot yet say exactly how all these cataclysms occur, and also reveal the reasons why the atmosphere of the sun is several thousand times hotter than its surface. In addition, it is not yet clear how the solar wind is born, a powerful stream of hot gas constantly ejected by the sun.
The lack of understanding of the nature of all these phenomena, as noted by Rimmele, is due to the fact that in order to answer all these astrophysical riddles it is necessary to "see" how the magnetic field of a star near its surface is arranged in the smallest detail.
Riddles of the Sun
Astronomers are trying to obtain this data using several dozen ground-based and orbiting telescopes, as well as instruments of the recently launched Parker Solar Probe mission, which regularly flies through the vicinity of the Sun's corona, the upper layers of its atmosphere. In the near future, as Rimmele hopes, the joint efforts of PSP and IST will help to get a definitive answer to this question.
As noted by the astrophysicist, the terrestrial part of this "duet", the DKIST telescope (Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope), is a unique four-meter telescope, created specifically for observing the Sun. Its construction on the top of the dormant volcano Haleakala began in 2013 and was completed only a few weeks ago.
For its work, engineers had to create a powerful cooling system, ready to remove about 13 kilowatts of heat from the telescope mirror, which the sun's rays bring with them, and also to develop special optics and ultrasensitive matrices that can record the slightest differences in the brightness of different points on the surface of the luminary.
A few days ago, astronomers obtained the first test images using the DKIST. They confirmed that this telescope can receive photographs of the surface of the Sun with the quality that is necessary to reveal all the most important secrets of the star. On them, according to Rimmele, one can see how the plasma of a luminary "seethes" in cells the size of large European states, and also consider the peculiarities of the structure of the Sun's magnetic field in the vicinity of such zones.
In the near future, Rimmele and his team plan to improve the accuracy of the DKIST, as well as begin joint observations with Parker Solar Probe and the European Solar Orbiter mission, which is scheduled to launch in early February. Their joint work, astronomers hope, will allow scientists to take a big step towards disclosing the mechanisms that govern the life of the sun's corona and the birth of flares on its surface.