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We meet a man who photographs the sun

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, HOST:

When I was a kid, I was told never to look directly into the sun.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Which is advice that Andrew McCarthy does not exactly follow.

ANDREW MCCARTHY: I'm an astrophotographer. Recently, I put together an image of the Sun that's about 300 megapixels by combining around 150,000 individual images.

INSKEEP: Mr. McCarthy spent many hours capturing and assembling the cleanest images of the center of our solar system. And the result is something like a mosaic that he believes is his clearest photo ever of the sun.

ELLIOTT: He did need special equipment - a camera, software to find the best images, and, most importantly of all, a heavily modified telescope.

MCCARTHY: Ordinarily, taking a telescope and pointing at the sun would be incredibly dangerous. It can lead to blindness and potentially starting a fire. So what I've done is I applied different filters within the telescope that only lets in a very narrow portion of that light, and that allows me to capture details on the sun that would be otherwise impossible.

ELLIOTT: By pointing his equipment at the sun from Arizona, McCarthy came up with a blazing amount of detail.

INSKEEP: Ooh, there's a good one. It turns out the sun is more than a giant orange ball. You can zoom in to see spiraling patterns or bursts of plasma the size of entire planets.

MCCARTHY: You can see sunspots and active regions of 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.

ELLIOTT: He says these photos are more than just a technical achievement. They also help explain something of our universe.

MCCARTHY: 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. It's bright. It's blinding. It's hot. Sometimes, it burns us. But it's incredibly beautiful, and we're incredibly lucky to have it. And it really helps us to understand, I think, our place in this universe by looking at it.

ELLIOTT: So bask in the glow.

(SOUNDBITE OF DIAMANS' "PERCEPTION") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.