Most people would tell you to avoid looking at the sun for too long – although American astrophotographer Andrew McCarthy would argue otherwise.

In a painstaking effort that required a composite of 150,000 images, McCarthy has captured a stunning 300 megapixel image of the sun – about 25 times more detailed than the latest iPhone’s capabilities. Take a look below:


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Using a unique enthusiast’s setup, McCarthy achieved the feat using a combination of image processing and by using a special, modified telescope.

“I always get excited about photographing the sun, it is really interesting because it is always different,” he shares. “While the moon is more of a benchmark of how clear the skies are, the sun is never boring and it was a very good day on the sun that day.”

With so many composite images, the result is particularly breathtaking to zoom in and explore. While the sun seems quite consistent and fixed from Earth, it’s a whole different story up close. Many astronomers and astrophotographers have spent years charting the solar surface – complete with unique swirls, temperature variations, and other natural phenomena.


Looking Starward

Setting up his workspace in his Arizona backyard, McCarthy needed to handle a few complications to pull this off.

For starters, looking at the sun is extremely dangerous. Sir Issac Newton himself tested this out – after looking at the sun for just a few minutes, he suffered from vision loss and other ocular issues for nearly three weeks afterwards.

Anything for science, right?

McCarthy, however, was well equipped to handle his project. His first aim was to fashion a telescope capable of safely and accurately viewing the sun, which he accomplished by using two high-performance filters. These not only prevented the highly focused sunbeams from setting fire to the telescope, but also protected him from potential blindness.

McCarthy then went on to capture the 150,000 images he needed – giving us a great view of our home star in the Arizona sky, at exactly 2PM, November 29th.

The next challenge was entirely on the edit table. After using specialized software to compile the images, McCarthy then tweaked the final result to perfection – or should I say near-perfection. Even with top-notch equipment, our photo-processing capabilities can be limited with such extreme subjects. Take a look at the image below:

Notice those dark spots? While you may think of those as cooler regions, they’re actually a by-product of the photographic process. In reality, those zones are white-hot regions of superheated plasma.

Still, McCarthy’s unique result is a sign of how accessible and enjoyable astrophotography has now become – and a testament to the wonders of outer space. You can find more of his magnificent work in print on his website.

(Image Source: Andrew McCarthy, @cosmic_background)