Dec. 4 (UPI) -- The Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope, DKIST, the world's largest solar observatory, has released its first portrait of a sunspot. The photograph's impressive details highlight the optical powers of the Hawaiian observatory.
Researchers released the image in conjunction with a new paper -- published Friday in the journal Solar Physics -- describing the telescope's mechanical features, optical instruments and scientific objectives.
Sunspots are dark spots found on the surface of the sun created by magnetic field flux, where the convergence of magnetic fields stunts convection and cools the sun's surface.
In the new image, hot and cool gas can be seen spidering outward from the sunspot's edge. The radiating pattern is created when rising hot gas and sinking cool gas become stretched along the lines of the inclined magnetic field.
Solar activity rises and falls over the course of an 11-year solar cycle. When solar activity is greatest, the surface of the sun is dotted with more sunspots.
DKIST snapped the portrait in January of this year, shortly after the sun reached its solar minimum at the end of 2019.
The sunspot imaged by the Inouye Solar Telescope was one of the first of the new solar cycle. It measured more than 10,000 miles wide.
Scientists expect the sun to reach its solar maximum in the middle of 2025.
"With this solar cycle just beginning, we also enter the era of the Inouye Solar Telescope," Matt Mountain, president of the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, which manages the National Solar Observatory and the Inouye Solar Telescope, said in a news release.
"We can now point the world's most advanced solar telescope at the sun to capture and share incredibly detailed images and add to our scientific insights about the sun's activity," said Mountain.
Sunspots aren't just optical phenomenon. The majority of solar flares and coronal mass ejections originate from the hyper-magnetized regions surrounding sunspots.
Scientists expect DKIST to provide new insights into the mechanics of supports and their related phenomena -- insights that will help researchers more accurately predict the trajectory of solar storms, which can disrupt communications systems and power grids, as well as put astronauts at risk.
"While the start of telescope operations has been slightly delayed due to the impacts of the COVID-19 global pandemic, this image represents an early preview of the unprecedented capabilities that the facility will bring to bear on our understanding of the sun," said David Boboltz, program director for the Inouye Solar Telescope at the National Science Foundation.
DKIST is funded by NSF and managed by the National Solar Observatory through a cooperative agreement with the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy.