NASA scientists pointing a telescope at the sun have discovered a gigantic hole in the solar atmosphere. The dark spot covers nearly a quarter of our closest star and is shooting solar material and gas into space.
Known as a coronal hole, the dark spot is located over the sun’s north pole. The discovery was witnessed from July 13 through July 18. NASA’s discovery was made using the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory, or SOHO.
Following the discovery, NASA released a video of the sun’s hole.
A Coronal hole is a darker, cool region of the sun’s atmosphere where solar material is contained. In the gaps, magnetic field lines whip out into the solar wind instead of looping back to the sun’s surface.
The sun’s holes are able to affect space weather as they send solar particles shooting away from the sun’s surface. Materials are hurled away from the sun in coronal spots at three times faster than regular solar winds.
According to NASA:
“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.”
Coronal holes are not uncommon, but, with the sun reaching its 11-year peak in activity, they typically decrease in number. The 11-year peak is the solar maximum in which the sun’s poles switch their magnetism.
When the poles reversal is complete, new coronal holes will appear near each pole. As the solar minimum appears, the holes move closer to the sun’s equator as they grow in size and number.
NASA’s discovery is just one more in a line of many to be discovered since the agency launched the $1.27 billion SOHO satellite in 1995.
SOHO is a joint effort between NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA). SOHO watches the sun from a gravitational stable spot between the Earth and the Sun known as Lagrange Point 1.