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The first images and videos are in from the National Science Foundation's Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope, and they show the bubbling, explosive surface of our sun in unprecedented detail. The sheer scale, beauty and violence is breathtaking.
The telescope, positioned on the summit of Mt. Haleakala in Hawaii, has been a 10-year planning and construction project. It uses a huge 13-foot (4 m) mirror, the biggest ever used on a solar telescope, and its curved shape and other optical elements focus a huge 13 kilowatts of solar power, creating enormous heat. Cooling is provided by a "liquid-cooled metal donut," and it features adaptive optics designed to compensate for the blurring introduced by the Earth's atmosphere at high resolutions.
As a result, it's the most advanced solar telescope ever built, and capable of rendering clear images of solar features as small as 20-30 km (12-18 mi) in size. Now, the first images are out, and they show the turbulent plasma of the sun's surface in magnificent detail.
Each of the cell-like structures in the images and video shown here is around the size of Texas, or about 700 miles (~1,100 km) across. The video at the bottom of the page shows how they rise and fall in the space of just 10 minutes. For a sense of scale, that video covers a width of the solar surface equal to about one and a half times the diameter of the Earth, or about 1/73rd of the diameter of the sun itself.