“Fire and Fusion,” a portrait of the Earth’s sun by Andrew McCarthy. (photo by and courtesy of Andrew McCarthy)

At first glance, the blazing orange sphere looks like a science textbook close-up of a microscopic structure, like a cell or virus. Closer inspection reveals roiling swirls, fiery streaks, gnarls, spots, and filaments dancing energetically on its surface. The mesmerizing photograph, titled “Fire and Fusion,” is actually a stunningly crisp portrait of the Earth’s sun, exactly as it looked on November 29th at 2pm from astrophotographer Andrew McCarthy’s backyard in Arizona.

McCarthy, who describes himself as “just a normal guy with a telescope,” layered approximately 150,000 images of the sun to capture the intricate details of our closest star.

A detail of the solar surface captured by McCarthy. (photo by and courtesy of Andrew McCarthy)

“Ordinarily, pointing a telescope at the sun is an incredibly bad idea, leading to equipment damage or even blindness,” McCarthy told Hyperallergic. “However, by modifying my telescope to purge the heat created by the sun while allowing a very small sliver of the visible light spectrum through, I can resolve details on the solar chromosphere, a feat otherwise impossible.”

“By taking thousands of pictures ultra-magnified of the surface, I can also eliminate the distortion effects from the atmosphere,” he added.

He then assembled the images as a mosaic, achieving a 300-megapixel photograph despite using a two-megapixel camera. The full-resolution picture, McCarthy’s clearest photo ever of the sun, is available for supporters to download on his Patreon page.

“You can see sunspots and active regions on the sun, those are areas where the electromagnetic field of the sun is excited and doing really interesting things like forming knots on the surface,” McCarthy said in an interview with NPR today.

“Sometimes we take the beautiful things in our life for granted. We all see the sun every single day, you walk outside your house, it’s right there,” he continued. “But it’s incredibly beautiful and we’re incredibly lucky to have it. It really helps us understand our place in the universe, by looking at it.”

The highest resolution images ever taken of the sun were captured by the National Science Foundation’s Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope near the summit of Haleakala, Hawaii last year. Those pictures, taken at 789 nanometers, revealed the star in “unprecedented detail,” showing popcorn-like patterns of boiling plasma enveloping the solar surface.

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Valentina Di Liscia

Valentina Di Liscia is Co-Editor of News at Hyperallergic. Originally from Argentina, she studied at the University of Chicago and is currently working on her MA at Hunter College, where she received the...