It seems like a lot to a lot of people. The Stay Puft Marshmallow Man from the classic 80s movie Ghostbusters. A ScrubDaddy a sponge An emoji. And a flashlight, just in time for Halloween. last week, NASA Solar Dynamics Observatory captured an image of the surface of the sun in an imaginary smile. “Today, NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory caught the sun’s smile.” Seen in ultraviolet light, these dark spots on the sun are known as coronal holes and are regions where the fast solar wind is ejected into space.” NASA tweets.
Overlays that make up the face in the picture coronal foramen—colder parts of the outer layer of the Sun. This layer is usually around 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Coronal holes show areas of high magnetic field activity that are steadily being released solar wind. These cosmic gusts are a stream of protons, electrons, and other particles moving through space.
While this image is a visual treat, the activity behind it may turn out to be more of a ruse here on Earth. The holes could be a solar storm that could have caused a beautiful aurora borealis in the more northern latitudes of the Earth or wreak havoc on the planet’s telecommunication systems. Such solar storms can cause trouble when the particles enter Earth’s atmosphere, where TV and radio antennas can pick up their signals. A strong enough solar storm can cause power outages and damage power grids. The Carrington event in 1859 was one of the most significant solar storms in recorded history and caused telegraph station fires and even the aurora borealis in tropical regions. With so much more telecommunications in the 21st century, an event like this could cause serious problems with the technology we rely on every day.
Another recent horrific solar storm was aptly named Halloween storms 2003. With minimal warning, three giant groups of sunspots formed on the Sun’s surface by October 26, 2003. The largest of these spots was 13 times the size of Earth, and 17 major solar flares erupted on the Sun. “The storms have affected more than half of the spacecraft orbiting Earth, periodically disrupting satellite TV and radio services and damaging a Japanese science satellite beyond repair,” according to the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration post “Solar activity has also put several deep space missions into safe mode or completely stopped operations and destroyed the Martian Radiation Environment Experiment aboard NASA’s Mars Odyssey mission. In the midst of storms, astronauts on board the International Space Station had to take shelter from high levels of radiation, which has happened only twice in the entire history of the mission.”
According to some researchers, the planet is also long overdue for a massive solar event. “Scientists expect this to happen on average, with a probability of a couple of percent, every year, and we’ve been dodging all these magnetic bullets for so long,” Brian Keating, professor of physics at the University of California in San Diego, announced this The Washington Post. “So it can be really scary and the consequences can be much more dramatic, especially in our technology-dependent society today. After all, there might be something coming our way on Halloween night. Pretty creepy, but hopefully not too creepy.”
The Solar Dynamics Observatory was first launched in 2010 with the mission of investigating how solar activity creates and drives space weather. The spacecraft measures the solar atmosphere, magnetic field, energy and solar steam. But the Solar Dynamics Observatory is hardly the only NASA organization hard at work bringing spooky images back to Earth this Halloween – the Hubble Space Telescope has also captured an eerie ‘cosmic keyhole’ that looks a bit like a portal to another dimension October 28.