New unprecedented images reveal what’s happening on the sun as it approaches ‘solar maximum’

A powerful ground-based solar telescope has taken new photographs of the sun's surface that show sunspots and other characteristics in unparalleled detail.

The four-meter (13.1-foot) Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope, owned by the National Science Foundation and situated on the Hawaiian island of Maui, was used to capture the eight photographs, which were made public on May 19.

The images reveal the calmer regions of the solar surface, despite the sun's rising activity as the July 2025 solar maximum, the pinnacle of the sun's 11-year cycle, approaches.

The photosphere, or the area of the sun's surface where the magnetic field is strong, is dotted with cool, black sunspots that can be as big as the Earth or bigger. Solar flares and coronal mass ejections, which release plasma and a portion of the magnetic field from the sun's outer atmosphere, or corona, and shoot throughout the solar system, are brought on by sunspot clusters.

These powerful sunbursts have the potential to interfere with satellite-based communications on Earth.

A study in contrast may be found in the sunspot patches shown in the photos. On the surface of the sun, bright, hot plasma flows upward while darker, cooler plasma flows below. Threadlike formations in the chromosphere, the part of the atmosphere above the surface, indicate the presence of magnetic fields.

The black sunspots show fine, intricate architecture, including luminous dots where the magnetic field is greatest. The sunspot is surrounded by bright penumbral filaments, which are produced by the magnetic field and carry heat.

Another picture depicts a sunspot that has mostly lost its brighter penumbra, which appears to be deteriorating. The leftover shards may represent the last stage of a sunspot's life cycle before it vanishes, according to researchers.

Additionally, "light bridges," brilliant solar phenomena that transcend a sunspot's deepest area, were spotted by the Inouye Solar Telescope. Though the appearance of these intricate structures can vary, scientists believe light bridges could serve as a warning sign for a sunspot that is ready to deteriorate. More information on the development of light bridges and their importance may become available from future observations.

According to the National Science Foundation, the photos captured over the last year were among the first observations made utilizing the largest and most potent ground-based solar telescope in the world during its commissioning phase. The organization claims that the telescope is now being upgraded to its full operating potential.

The capabilities of the telescope are expected to help scientists unravel the mysteries of the sun's magnetic field and provide answers to important puzzles concerning the sun, such as where solar storms come from.

The telescope was made to produce never-before-seen photographs of the solar atmosphere and to continuously measure the magnetic fields in the sun's corona. Inouye's imaging capabilities are three times greater than those of other observatories, allowing it to capture tiny solar characteristics.

Some of the sun's long-standing mysteries can be solved with the aid of solar data from the Inouye Solar Telescope, two space-based projects named Solar Orbiter and the Parker Solar Probe, and beautiful new vistas of our star.