The sun’s rays may be stronger than scientists previously thought, new research suggests. Using a highly sophisticated telescope, a team of researchers recorded the highest-energy light ever detected from the sun, reaching up to nearly 10 trillion electron volts, according to a study published August 3 in the journal Physical Review Letters.
“The sun is more surprising than we knew,” study co-author Mehr Un Nisa, a postdoctoral research associate at Michigan State University, said in a statement. “We thought we had this star figured out, but that’s not the case.”
This immensely powerful light takes the form of gamma rays, which have the most energy of any wave on the electromagnetic spectrum. The scientists discovered that there are more gamma rays emanating from the sun than they had initially thought, meaning that this light is incredibly bright.
“This new observation is as exciting as it is puzzling, because the HAWC team have shown that the Sun shines brightly in high-energy gamma rays — brighter than anyone expected,” Brian Fields, an astrophysicist at the University of Illinois who was not involved in the research, told Live Science in an email. “Despite being our closest and most familiar stellar neighbor, the Sun still holds surprises for us.”
To measure the sun’s rays, the researchers used the High-Altitude Water Cherenkov Observatory (HAWC), a collection of 300 tanks filled with 220 tons (200 metric tons) of water each. Located between two dormant peaks of the Sierra Negra volcano in Mexico, this observatory measures energy signals from gamma rays and cosmic rays — even when their light does not reach Earth’s surface.