It is a forbidden place. We cannot land there, we cannot see it with our naked eye without causing some kind of permanent eye damage and we cannot take out a piece of it for sampling in the lab. It is the most unforgiving, unmerciful and majestic thing in the sky and in our cosmic neighborhood. Enter, the Sun!
The pictures you see here were not taken from the internet or from a NASA website. These are taken from your very own city of Lahore! I have special solar filters that I can attach with a telescope (127mm apochromatic refractor, for the nerds out there!) and they enable me to cut away 99% of the harmful bright light of the Sun and I can then take images of the remaining 1%, which you see here.
Now, for millennia, people thought that the Sun was a perfect sphere with a perfect surface that was as bright and as clear as anything could be. Of course they said that because why won’t they! They didn’t have telescopes to see its real face! Rather, it’s real surface! Alas, the Sun was no perfection. It was littered with some kind of weird, scattered, uneven and quite frankly ugly spots. Astronomy is a simple subject. We call it like it is. Spots on the Sun? Well, let’s call them: Sunspots! That is literally the official designation of these dark spots on the solar disc.
Since these can easily be seen with the naked eye during Sunrise or Sunset when the light of the Sun is very dim (I will never advise you to look directly at the Sun – permanent and painless eye damage can occur), it is fitting to share with you what they really are. Are they some spots etched right into the stuff of the Sun? Are they cool areas? Are they seas? Are they some alien habitats? What are they and why are they only on the Sun?
The Sun is a big boiling, roiling, gurgling, turning, churning ball of hot gas called plasma. It has a very, very intense and complicated network of magnetic field that orchestrates the flow of this plasma. Imagine the magnetic field to be a police warden who is directing traffic. The traffic being the plasma (the stuff that the Sun is made up of). The plasma is in a continuous cycle that makes it move from deeper layers of the Sun to the surface and then back again. Whenever there is too much magnetic field concentrated in one place at one time, the plasma gets stuck and cannot move. This creates a spot on the surface of the Sun where fresh plasma (from deeper layers) cannot reach the surface. That spot on the surface then becomes relatively cooler than the surroundings (the ‘cool’ here is still hot enough to melt lead!). We see it as a darker area than the surrounding and to our human brains; it looks like a spot on the Sun! By the way, they can easily engulf a few Earths within them. That is how big they are!
P.S. What appear to be dark regions are actually so bright that if they are plucked from the Sun (yes, plucked!) and placed in the night sky, they will shine as bright as the light of the full Moon!
It is but one out of the billions and billions of stars in our night sky!