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The fury of our sun captured in never-before-seen detail

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Normally it's harmful to stare at the sun, but for researchers at the NJIT’s Big Bear Solar Observatory, that's their job. Stripping away the danger with its New Solar Telescope (NST), the team used its newly-equipped spectrometer to help capture the clearest images of the sun's atmosphere to date, discovering never-before-seen features within the star at the center of our solar system.

The first image (featured above) displays the most detailed sunspot ever captured in visible light. The NST's photo shows how the darker central core (the umbra) interacts with the brighter petal-like tendrils of energy (the penumbra), helping researchers gain new insights into that type of solar activity. The second (displayed below), focuses on the sun's H-alpha line center and shows swirling, almost demonic, "ultrafine magnetic loops" in the sun's photosphere. The NST will soon receive an upgrade to eliminate atmospheric distortion and allow physicists to monitor the sun in near-infrared light, advancing existing research and helping them to understand how the sun's magnetic forces affect the Earth and the rest of our solar system.