A spacecraft recently spotted a massive hole in the sun’s atmosphere. The anomaly, called a coronal hole, covers almost a quarter of our star and spews solar material and gas into space.
The hole was spotted by the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) between July 13 and 18. The anomaly is a darker, cooler region of the sun’s atmosphere.
The region contains little solar material, allowing magnetic field lines to whip out into the solar wind, reports Yahoo! News. In other areas, the magnetic field lines appear as a loop that juts out, then returns to the sun’s surface.
NASA released a video of the hole in the sun as seen by the spacecraft. Karen Fox, with NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, explained:
“While it’s unclear what causes coronal holes, they correlate to areas on the sun where magnetic fields soar up and away, failing to loop back down to the surface, as they do elsewhere.”
While the coronal holes are not rare, their frequency can change depending on the solar activity cycle, notes The Huffington Post. The sun is reaching its 11 year peak in activity, releasing more solar storms that are much more powerful than it will release during its more dormant time.
The solar maximum also involves the sun’s poles reversing their magnetism. The number of coronal holes on the sun’s surface usually decrease leading up to the switch. Then, new coronal holes will appear near the poles. NASA notes that the holes move from the poles to the equator as the sun reaches its solar minimum.
The SOHO satellite that captured the hole in the sun was launched in 1995. It is operated by NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) to monitor solar activity.Coronal holes, like coronal mass ejections, can affect space weather, because they send solar particles streaming from the sun’s surface three times as fast as the slower wind unleashed in other areas.
[Image by ESA/NASA]