Sun Develops Gigantic Hole Fifty Times Larger than Earth

By Tom Yulsman | December 6, 2014 8:15 pm
A composite of three image of the Sun acquired by the Solar Dynamics Observatory spacecraft with different, but very similar, temperatures. Each color highlights a different part of the Sun's extended outer atmosphere, called the corona. (Source: NASA SDO)

The Sun has developed a huge hole in its extended atmosphere, called the corona. It’s that big blue splotch visible at the bottom. (Source: NASA SDO)

Not to worry! As many of you may know, a gigantic hole in the Sun’s atmosphere is not terribly unusual. But you have to admit: This one is pretty dramatic.

The image above is actually a composite of three acquired by the Solar Dynamics Observatory spacecraft this past week. Each color highlights a different part of the Sun’s extended outer atmosphere — the corona. The coronal hole is that big, dark-blue splotch at the bottom.

Here’s NASA’s explanation:

The most dominant feature on the Sun the past week has been quite a large, dark coronal hole at the bottom of the Sun (Nov. 30 – Dec. 4, 2014). Coronal holes are areas where the Sun’s magnetic field is open ended and where high-speed solar wind streams into space. The area appears darker there because there is less material being imaged…

And here’s a nifty animation of SDO images showing the evolution of the coronal hole over nearly five days of activity:

Coronal holes are most common when the 11-year solar cycle is in a declining phase. Right now, the Sun is actually near the maximum of the cycle. (Click here for a graphic depicting the current status of the solar cycle.)

That said, this peak has been pretty weak compared to others since solar cycles have been observed in detail starting in 1755.

I’m hoping that the Sun continues to be feisty for a bit longer — at least until mid January, when I’ll be in Norway for the annual Arctic Frontiers conference. Solar tantrums (also known as coronal mass ejections) tend to produce great displays of the aurora borealis. Last winter I got to witness an awesome display in Norway in the form of a Viking ship! (Click here for the image; scroll to the bottom.) I’m hoping for a repeat performance.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, select, Sun, Top Posts
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ImaGeo

ImaGeo is a visual blog focusing on the intersection of imagery, imagination and Earth. It focuses on spectacular visuals related to the science of our planet, with an emphasis (although not an exclusive one) on the unfolding Anthropocene Epoch.

About Tom Yulsman

Tom Yulsman is Director of the Center for Environmental Journalism and a Professor of Journalism at the University of Colorado, Boulder. He also continues to work as a science and environmental journalist with more than 30 years of experience producing content for major publications. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Audubon, Climate Central, Columbia Journalism Review, Discover, Nieman Reports, and many other publications. He has held a variety of editorial positions over the years, including a stint as editor-in-chief of Earth magazine. Yulsman has written one book: Origins: the Quest for Our Cosmic Roots, published by the Institute of Physics in 2003.

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