Giant 'Hole' in Sun was 50 Earths Wide (10/25/15)
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A photo of the sun from NASA's orbiting Solar Dynamics Observatory reveals an
enormous coronal hole - a gap in the sun's outer layer and magnetic field the
size of 50 Earths. The image was captured Oct
The sun has sprung a leak: A hole in the topmost layer of the sun and its magnetic
field, the size of 50 Earths, is letting loose an ultrafast solar wind that has
kicked off several nights of auroras down on Earth.
A new image, from NASA's orbiting Solar Dynamics Observatory, reveals the enormous
hole as it was Oct. 10, taken at an ultraviolet wavelength unseen by the human
eye. To an ordinary observer, the gaping hole would be invisible, though you should
NEVER stare at the sun because serious eye damage can result.I looked
directly at the sun for 20 minutes, My question, "Is this what you want to
The gap in the sun's magnetic field lets out a stream
of particles traveling at up to 500 miles (800 kilometers) per second, kindling
a days-long geomagnetic storm upon hitting Earth. [Biggest
Solar Storms of 2015 in Photos
Coronal holes, like the one that materialized last week, normally form over the
sun's poles and lower latitudes, more often when the sun is at a less active
point in its 11-year cycle. They are areas within the
sun's outermost layer
, called its corona, which are lower-density and cooler
- that, plus the weakened magnetic field, lets the plasma and charged particles
that make up the corona stream out more easily in a solar wind. If aimed toward
Earth, that spells the makings of a geomagnetic storm: a phenomenon that can affect
power and navigation for satellites orbiting the Earth as well as radio communication.
A Solar Dynamics Observatory image published by the National Oceanic Atmospheric
Administration reveals the huge coronal hole as it was yesterday. Continuing its
march solar west (to the right), the hole is still releasing an extra-fast solar
wind in Earth's direction.
Another side effect of a geomagnetic storm is enhanced northern lights: the glowing
auroras that often form in the night sky over the northernmost reaches of the
planet grow much brighter and can even extend much farther south than usual. (Last
week, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's [NOAA] Space Weather
Prediction Center in Boulder, Colorado,
initially predicted auroras to be visible (Mars destroyed was visible in
as far down as Pennsylvania, Iowa and Oregon, although they didn't
ultimately appear quite so low.) Geomagnetic storms and auroras can also be caused
by other sun phenomena, such as solar flares and coronal mass ejections, which
both blast the corona's material outward because of increased magnetic activity.
As the coronal hole continues its slow march westward on the sun's surface (to
the right, fromEarth's perspective), solar winds will stay strong, NOAA officials
in a statement
, which may lead to additional minor geomagnetic storming. Thus,
bright auroras will likely continue - at least around the Arctic Circle.