Incredible View of an Active Region on the Sun

Wow! What a view of Active Region 1542 on the Sun! César Cantú from the Chilidog Observatory in Monterrey, Mexico says this is “another way” of looking at the active region.

“It is an inverted image,” César said via email, which means it is essentially a negative which is then processed. “The process was done with software: Registax, PhotoshopCS5 and PixInsight,” he said.

César took this image on August 8, 2012. Note the incredible detail of the Sun’s swirling surface, the black bottomless pit of a sunspot, a tornadic-like prominence on the right and other wisps of solar material just above the surface.

He used a Meade 10 inch SC, with Coronado 90 mm and BF30 filters, along with a DMK31 camera. “The focal length is 2500 mm and correlated with the camera, approximately 210 X,” César said.

See the original at his website.

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Image caption: Active Region 1542 on August 8, 2012. Credit: César Cantú. Used by permission.

How Big Are Sunspots?

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The short answer? Really big. The long answer? Really, really big.

The image above shows sunspot regions in comparison with the sizes of Earth and Jupiter, demonstrating the sheer enormity of these solar features.

Sunspots are regions where the Sun’s internal magnetic fields rise up through its surface layers, preventing convection from taking place and creating cooler, optically darker areas. They often occur in pairs or clusters, with individual spots corresponding to the opposite polar ends of magnetic lines.

(Read “What Are Sunspots?”)

The image on the left was acquired by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory on May 11, 2012, showing Active Region 11476. The one on the right comes courtesy of the Carnegie Institution of Washington, and shows the largest sunspot ever captured on film, AR 14886. It was nearly the diameter of Jupiter — 88,846 miles (142,984 km)!

“The largest sunspots tend to occur after solar maximum and the larger sunspots tend to last longer as well,” writes SDO project scientist Dean Pesnell on the SDO is GO blog. “As we move through solar maximum in the northern hemisphere and look to the south to pick up the slack there should be plenty of sunspots to watch rotate by SDO.”

Sunspots are associated with solar flares and CMEs, which can send solar storms our way and negatively affect satellite operation and impact communications and sensitive electronics here on Earth. As we approach the peak of the current solar maximum cycle, it’s important to keep an eye — or a Solar Dynamics Observatory! — on the increasing activity of our home star.

(Image credit: NASA/SDO and the Carnegie Institution)