New images of Sun taken by a new Solar Telescope is showing a sunspot formation in action that may give scientists clues as to why the phenomena occurs.
For a long time, sunspots have been a mystery to astronomers and scientists. Although they don’t know for sure, they theorize that sunspots occur due to magnetic fields. They think these magnetic fields clash, and ultimately form dense regions that end up preventing heat from rising to the surface of the sun.
The size of sunspots can vary immensely. Some are observed to only be the size of a small moon, while others are as massive as the entire planet of Jupiter. The spots tend to have a dark center, called the umbra, where the prevention of heat is strongest, and an outer penumbra, an area which is both lighter and warmer.
According to NASA, sunspots have been under observation for years. Astronomers in ancient China wrote about them, and even the famous Galileo observed them. Yet after all these year, sunspots are still a mystery.
However, new pictures that were presented at the 224th meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Boston may give clues as to exactly why and how they are formed. The new images were compiled from the Solar Telescope at Big Bear Solar Observatory in California and NASA’s unmanned orbital telescope IRIS.
The images show minute activity in the area where the umbra and the penumbra meet. At this area, it appears as if magnetism is containing plasma, which is moving in a “rolling motion.”
The images are the first of their kind to capture such activity, and suggest that rotating rolls in the penumbra are connected to rotating “umbral dots,” bright spots in the center of the umbra. The images also note that jets of plasma will shoot out of the sunspots, destroying previous claims that sunspots are tamer than the rest of the sun.
While scientists have yet to come up with an explanation of why this occurs, the pictures do indicate that sunspots are far more complex than what was previously thought.