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ALMA shares new images of the sun

"To fully understand the sun, we need to study it across the entire electromagnetic spectrum," said researcher Tim Bastian.

By Brooks Hays

Jan. 17 (UPI) -- For the last 30 months, scientists have been experimenting with ALMA and its ability to image the sun. Recently, ALMA's handlers shared images captured during the array's experimental solar observation phase.

The Atacama Large Millimeter Array, in the Atacama Desert in Chile, was designed to observe faint and distant objects, faraway galaxies and protoplanetary disks. However, it can also image stars, planets and moons within our solar system.

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Researchers wanted to reveal the potential ALMA offers to astronomers studying the surface of the sun. The array can absorb longer wavelengths and image the sun in new spectral bandwidths.

"We're accustomed to seeing how our sun appears in visible light, but that can only tell us so much about the dynamic surface and energetic atmosphere of our nearest star," Tim Bastian, an astronomer with the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Charlottesville, Va., said in a news release. "To fully understand the sun, we need to study it across the entire electromagnetic spectrum, including the millimeter and submillimeter portion that ALMA can observe."

Researchers working with ALMA had to adapt their observation strategies to ensure safety, as the array is typically used to magnify the radiation of faraway objects, not the emissions of the star closest to Earth.

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The latest ALMA images, newly released by the ALMA Observatory, reveal the array's ability to observe and image the sun's surface at multiple scales. A series of images show the evolution of a sunspot measuring twice the diameter of Earth.

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