Astronomy Picture of the Day

Discover the cosmos! Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.

2001 November 8
See Explanation.  Clicking on the picture will download
 the highest resolution version available.

Under A Sunspot
Credit: MDI, SOHO Consortium, ESA, NASA

Explanation: At the Sun's surface, sunspots are known to be dark, planet-sized regions of intense magnetic fields. But what lies below? Using observations from the Michelson Doppler Imager (MDI) instrument aboard the space-based SOHO observatory, astronomers have derived this premier picture of the flow of material just beneath a visible sunspot. The MDI data indicate that immediately under the sunspot a strong inflowing current exists, shown above by the dark arrows. This converging undertow pulls near-surface material toward the spot and prevents the concentrated magnetic fields from flying apart, like repelling poles of iron magnets. Such a configuration appears to divert the normal flow of plasma bubbling up from the solar interior, creating a self-sustaining sunspot. The MDI instrument can explore the properties of the solar interior by detecting motions produced by sound waves as they interact at the solar surface.

Tomorrow's picture: Over the Sun

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Authors & editors: Robert Nemiroff (MTU) & Jerry Bonnell (USRA)
NASA Technical Rep.: Jay Norris. Specific rights apply.
A service of: LHEA at NASA/ GSFC
& Michigan Tech. U.