A state of alarm, everyone. An enormous hole has opened up on the Sun, and we’re all going to meet our burning end probably in a very short time.
Ok, that last part isn’t strictly correct. However, there is a huge hole in the upper atmosphere of the Sun currently, and it’s sending a flow of particles our way. That will be simultaneously rather frightening and rather cool.
This specific hole was spotted back on November 7 to 9 by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO). As you can see it from the image above, there is a huge dark region that is also currently extending down the side.
Holes similar to this aren’t too infrequent even, though it may appear scary. These are called coronal holes, and they are magnetically open areas in the sun’s atmosphere that allow high-speed solar wind to surge out into space.
Dramatic events like solar flares and sunspots can be caused by the Sun’s magnetic field lines. However, for coronal holes the reason it looks darker because that region is much cooler and less compact compared to other areas of the Sun. Therefore it appears less bright in this ultraviolet perspective from the SDO.
“This spacious, magnetic field line structure enables the solar wind to escape more readily into space, leading to flows of relatively fast solar wind,” comments the Space Weather Prediction Center.
This specific hole has been correlated with some dazzling aurorae earlier this month, which were seen as far south as Nebraska in the United States. The extra particles from the Sun flow into our planet’s poles, causing the bright colors related to aurorae and stimulating particles.
Even the Sun is moving towards a period of solar minimum, once the number of solar flares and sunspots should decrease. Coronal holes should eventually become more prevalent.
“One of the reasons that coronal holes are significant to study is that they are thought to be the key sites of acceleration for its high-speed solar wind.”
So, there’s a giant hole in the Sun, however, there is nothing to worry about. Yet.