NASA has captured a “smiling” image of the sun, prompting a geomagnetic storm watch. The photo shows our Sun smiling with two black spots on top of a crescent-shaped “smile”.
The science and other stuff to know
Taking to Twitter, NASA shared the image of the Sun “smiling”, writing:
“Say cheese! NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory caught the Sun ‘smiling.’ Seen in ultraviolet light, these dark patches on the Sun are known as coronal holes and are regions where fast solar wind gushes out into Space.”
The Teletubbies baby/Sun, a biscuit, a lion, and a pumpkin are just a few examples of the characters and objects that were quickly used as comparisons to the “smiling” image.
Seen in ultraviolet light, the Sun’s friendly expression is formed of patches known as coronal holes. According to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Space Weather Prediction Center, the holes appear dark because they’re cooler and less dense than the surrounding regions. They also have open magnetic fields. These characteristics allow “streams of relatively fast solar wind” to escape more easily.
In an apt Halloween spirit, while the image is, of course, an adorable treat, it also comes with tricks. The coronal holes trio is a sign the Earth will soon be hit by geomagnetic storms. According to NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center, such storms disrupt power and other systems on Earth while also impacting spacecraft operations.
The geomagnetic storms are ranked on a scale from G1 (minor) to G5 (extreme). Even minor storms can cause “weak power grid fluctuations” and impact satellite operations and migratory animals. They can also make auroras, often called the northern lights, more prevalent. In the most extreme storm, some grid systems can experience “complete collapse.”
The “unsettled conditions” were expected to extend through Wednesday, the center said last week. However, as of Monday, neither “significant transient or recurrent solar wind features” nor geomagnetic storms are anticipated.
Geomagnetic storms have occurred in the past. Just recently, a mild solar particle and geomagnetic storm led to the failure of 40 SpaceX Starlink satellites that had been recently launched and were in low Earth orbit (LEO).